2002-10-11 Lakeshore Press Panel nixes fair housing center funding

Panel nixes fair housing center funding
Lakeshore Press

Ottawa County commissioners again have rejected a proposal to fund a center to help battle housing discrimination. Commissioners on the county’s Health and Human Services Committee reviewed a proposal Thursday seeking $49,000 in start-up funds for a Lakeshore Fair Housing Center. But three out of five commissioners on the committee said they weren’t convinced the county should be providing funds for such a venture.

Commissioner Joe Haveman of Holland said he hasn’t been persuaded that existing laws and methods to report housing discrimination are inadequate. “I don’t think we need another layer of bureaucracy or another big brother looking over our shoulder,” he said. Haveman said landlords, real estate agents and bankers have a self-interest not to discriminate because, if caught, they could face huge penalties.

The Ottawa County Community Action Agency board offered the recommendation to the Health and Human Services Committee after reviewing statistics about local housing discrimination complaints and housing test. In 2001 test conducted by the city of Holland, six of eight tests showed at least some degree of differential treatment against those seeking housing.

Earlier this year, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance sought start-up funding for a fair housing center, which would offer education and help to those who wanted to file discrimination complaints. Commissioners rejected the idea at the time, however, and asked for the Community Action Agency to collect more statistics about fair housing complaints filed in local communities to demonstrate a need for a center.

Haveman wasn’t convinced by the statistics Thursday and renewed an argument that people can file complaints through the Michigan Department of Civil Right without a fair housing center. “I think if you’re discriminated against, you’re smart enough to find out where to go to file a complaint. The law is already out there to deal with the problem,” he said.

But Commissioner Cindy Visscher of Holland disputed the assertion that most Holland area residents know where to turn if they experience discrimination. “We don’t have the capability to understand what it’s like for other kinds of people out there,” she said. Visscher who said she couldn’t support giving a lump sun $49,000 toward a fair housing center but still supports the idea of doing more to battle housing discrimination, suggested the county might authorize up to $20,000 in funding to the Community Action Agency to do the same kind of work that the fair housing center might tackle.

Visscher said she thought the county should do something about the issue. “To me, saying we’ll just do the bare minimum is really not the way to do it. I’m just not comfortable with that,” she said. Commissioners Haven, Ed Berghorst of Zeeland Township and Joyce Kortman of Park Township did not support her idea, however.