2001-08-10 Lakeshore Press In report's wake, Fair Housing Center to seek funds for local office

In report’s wake, Fair Housing Center to seek funds for local office
Lakeshore Press

A group behind the effort to open a Lakeshore branch of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids plans to ask local governmental units and housing industry businesses to fund the office’s $57,00 a year operational cost. “It makes sense to bring everyone to the table to see what we can do,” said Gail Harrison, the executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which organized the recent Summit on Racism.

Fifteen percent of the complaints the Grand Rapids nonprofit agency has logged over the past two years have come from the Lakeshore area, Harrison said. Here office in Grand Haven also receives calls. “The calls we get come from people trying to buy into white upscale neighborhoods,” Harrison said.

The proposal was approved Thursday afternoon by the Fair Housing Initiative Community Action Team, one of several committees created at the summit. The Rev. Wayne Coleman, a member of the team, questioned if more money is needed to spend on fair housing testing. “Testing to do what? To prove what to whom? We already know discrimination exists,” said Coleman, pastor of The Church of the Burning Bush in Holland.

Last month, the city’s Human Relations Commission announced that results of eight “monitoring” tests conducted by the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids, which showed some real estate agents and bank loan officers, discriminate against black customers. The tests are seen as a first step to determine if businesses were following fair housing practices and if more education and possibly enforcement of the laws was needed, said Al Serrano, the city’s human relations director.“It’s effective because it gets everybody’s attention,” Serrano said. “People should know it’s against the law and is an illegal activity.”

The testing that would be done out of the branch office would be different than the series of testing done on behalf of the city because the businesses targeted would not be randomly selected. Instead, the tests would be used as an investigative tool to gather “hard data” that a business has discriminatory practices, Serrano said. “This testing is basically evidence gathering. It’s been the best format to win a case in court,” Serrano said.

Nearly half the $57,000 budget would be used to conduct 50 tests along the Lakeshore and a staffer would be available to take complaints three days a week-two in Holland and one in Grand Haven. Serrano said he believes the city will make a contribution to the effort. After reviewing the results of the recent tests at a study session Wednesday, Holland City Council members said they would like to see more testing done to raise awareness about the problem.

Tino Reyes, with Latin Americans United for Progress, said people are tired of having their complaints about discrimination ignored. “If we don’t do something, it’s going to get worse. We already have tension now,” Reyes said. Coleman said education is the key. On Monday, he convened members of the black community and representatives of the housing industry to discuss the city’s fair housing report and discussion solutions. “We have to get the word out and educate our people,” Coleman said.