2002-10-10 Holland Sentinel Proposed fair housing center gets another look

Proposed fair housing center gets another look
Holland Sentinel

Ottawa County officials are revisiting the need for a lakeshore fair housing center. A county board committee last year rejected contributing funds toward a proposal from local social activists, saying that there wasn’t enough documentation that a countywide problem with housing discrimination existed.

But since then, a telephone number has been established for those who feel they might have faced discrimination can call and county officials have compiled numbers from area social agencies that provide a better picture of what’s occurring in the area.

That number, (616) 546-3196, has received more than 10 calls since it was established earlier this year, but Gail Harrison, director of Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said that the calls have come when there has been absolutely no marketing to let people know about it. The calls are currently forwarded to the Fair Housing Center of Grand Rapids, which conducts an investigation.

Organizers of the proposed center have submitted a renewed proposal, and the Ottawa County community Action Agency board has reviewed it and will make a recommendation to the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners Health and Human Services Committee, according to Holland Commissioner Cindy Visscher. It will decide whether to move it forward at 1:30 p.m. today.

Numbers of housing discrimination complaints to area agencies such as the Lakeshore Center for Independent Living and Good Samaritan Ministries will also be discussed at today’s meeting. The current proposal would fund a part-time worker to accept calls and for office space. It has a budget of $68,200.

Harrison said that the ethnic diversity alliance is seeking $49,720 from the county and is submitting applications for $15,000 to the Steelcase Foundation to contribute toward the project as well. She said that she’s hoping the cities of Holland and Grand Haven will contribute as well. Holland commissioner and committee member Joe Haveman was critical of the original proposal last year, but said that it was encouraging that members of the diversity alliance have approached businesses for funds as well.

Commissioners said last year that the Fair Housing Center in Grand Rapids has only 30 reported complaints along the lakeshore over the past three years, and that county attorney Greg Rappleye reported that there are no active housing discrimination cases under the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act. The act defines and prohibits discrimination in real estate and housing.

Haveman also said last year that with people like city of Holland Community Human Relations Coordinator Al Serrano is available to handle the few documented cases, the resources are already available. He also said that with strict laws and harsh penalties against housing discrimination, bankers and those dealing in real estate already try to prudently follow the law.