2002-02-08 Lakeshore Press Summit on Racism keynote speaker's first encounter with prejudice happened here

Funds for fair housing center hit a snag
Lakeshore Press

If Cindy Visscher had her way, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners would help fund a fair housing center to focus on discrimination against minorities by realtors and landlords. Visscher, a Holland commissioner, led a proposal to fund a lakeshore fair housing center at Thursday’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting, but the drive was blocked by fellow Holland Commissioner Joe Haveman.

The measure to forward a $20,000 funding request to the full board was stopped by a 3-2 vote, with Haveman, Zeeland Commissioner Ed Berghorst and Park Township Commissioner Joyce Kortman against the move. Visscher and Jane Ruiter, of Spring Lake, supported the proposal. “I don’t think this is a situation where people in a room can make a judgment based on our ezperiences,” Visscher said. “We don’t have the capacity to understand what it’s like to be of another background and what they face.”

The two Holland delegates to the commission agree fair housing is a concern that needs to be addressed. The two, however, have differing views on who is best prepared to find and fund a solution. Haveman believes the problem there have been 10 complaints to an unpublicized hotline this year –can be cleared up by the business community or a collaboration of private and public officials.

“We should not always be the first blank check. I’m not convinced we have to be the solution to every problem,” Haveman said. “We should see if there’s private funding from businesses first.” The Community Acton Agency, which is behind the center, has applied for a $15,000 grant from the Steelcase Foundation but has yet to hear back from the private group.

Officials from the City of Holland have said they’d help with funding if the county made the first move. Last year, city testers found six of eight black and white applicants were treated differently by lenders and real estate companies. Cathy Simons, the agency director, says a fair housing center would be self-supporting after three years. Simons said the agency looked at four options including doing nothing, promoting the complaint hotline, providing education materials on what constitutes discrimination and funding the housing center.

“We felt like there was evidence that discrimination was occurring,” she said, explaining the other choices would not satisfy the issue, or would have recurring expenses and funding requests that likely wouldn’t be met year in and year out. The funding would have established a Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance-led satellite office of a Grand Rapids housing agency, trained community housing testers and assisted in fair housing enforcement.

Visscher, like Haveman, is hesitant to dole out the entire cost of the center, estimated at $49,720, but said she sees merit in getting the ball rolling.