2001-08-09 Lakeshore Press Confront housing bias, offical tells council

Confront housing bias, official tells council
Lakeshore Press

A fair housing study found evidence of racial bias in half of the cases it studied over a six-month period, leading to calls for greater enforcement of ordinances that prohibit discrimination. The results of a recent fair housing study conducted by the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids for Holland’s Human Relations Commission found evidence of discrimination based on eight tests conducted over a six-month period.

The test results should raise red flags, Alberto Serrano, the city’s human relations director, told the city council Wednesday during a study session. He suggested the city fund more tests and be prepared to take the next step of enforcing ordinances that prohibit discrimination. “There is more of a consequence if we don’t enforce fair housing rules,” Serrano said. There already is an effort to open a branch office of the Fair Housing Center along the Lakeshore.

It would give local people a place to file formal complaints against businesses and allow the complaints to be followed up with testing, enforcement and educations, said Gail Harrison, director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. Harrison and other members of the Community Action Team of the Ottawa Area Summit on Racism is trying to open the branch, which would cost about $57,000. They are looking to local communities such as Holland lending institutions and private foundations to help with funding Harrison on Wednesday asked the city to consider collaborating on the effort.

Some residents who feel they have been discriminated against say they would welcome change. “It’s obvious we have a problem it goes further than housing,” said Holland businesswoman Kim Harris. When she and her husband moved to Holland in 1994, finding a place to rent took more than two months, said Harris who now lives in Douglas but operates her business, H & H Beauty Supply, on West 16th Street in Holland.

While the names of the institutions allegedly caught violating Fair Housing practices weren’t released, Serrano said he met with the institutions at discuss test results. All indicated they would follow up with internal investigations, he said. “For some of them, it was a real revelation that they may have some weaknesses that they need to tend to,” Serrano said.

Realtors are taking notice of the results of the fair housing tests, said Dale Zahn, chief executive of the 1,000 member West Michigan Lakeshore Association of Realtors. Zahn said the organization is eager to work with the Human Relations Commission to increase awareness of the issue. Zahn shared the results of the test with the organization’s membership in a newsletter. He also wants the public to know the trade association will investigate claims of discrimination by Realtors. “We want to let people know we are here,” said Zahn, adding that his office rarely, if ever, gets discrimination complaints.

The industry’s national code of ethics prohibits housing discrimination. Association members found in violation can face fines of up to $2,500, along with suspensions and expulsion. “If someone is violating the laws of the land and/or the code of ethics, we don’t need those kinds of people,” Zahn said. It doesn’t make financial sense to discriminate, say officials at National City Bank. The bank, which operates in six states, was the largest lender of leans to blacks in 1999 of any bank in the country. The bank reviews loans to look for patterns of discrimination and also markets to the black community and other minority communities, said David Fynn, senior vice president, who over sees the fair lending and community reinvestment for the Cleveland based bank. “You have to be continually alert to the subtle ways discrimination creeps into procedures. That applies to all industries, not just banking,” Fynn said.