2002-12-06 Holland Sentinel Committee OKs Proposal for fair housing focus groups

Committee OKs Proposal for fair housing focus groups
Holland Sentinel

It won’t fund a center, but Ottawa County officials are looking to start talk within the housing market about fair housing practices.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday passed along a proposal to spend $5,000 on two focus groups of community leaders and professionals in the industry to get them speaking to one another and determine whether any problems with fair housing exist in Ottawa County.

Commissioners hailed it as a compromise between doing nothing and funding a fair housing center of handle complaints regarding discrimination in the residential market.

Earlier this year, they shot down a request for $20,000 by local social activists to fund a fair housing center because they weren’t convinced that a problem exists in Ottawa County.

“I don’t want to send a message that we’re thumbing our nose to the whole issue,” said Haveman, a commissioner form Holland. “Maybe the two parties can fix this problem by themselves and we don’t need government intervention.”

While it passed the committee unanimously, some commissioners were still skeptical that a problem exists.

Hudsonville Commissioner Fred VanderLaan suggested that the county could even be starting a problem.

“I’m just hoping that I’m not opening a can of worms,” he said.

Haveman said that he doesn’t believe the county will ever be 100 percent free of such problems, and that a bureaucratic department would only hurt matters.

The proposal now moves on to the county board finance committee before healing to the full board of commissioners for approval.

Local social activists are moving forward toward establishing a fair housing center on their own.

Gail Harrison, director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said that there is a request with the Steelcase Foundation to help fund such a center.

Harrison said that she was pleased that county officials were beginning a dialogue and hopes that they will eventually contribute toward a fair housing center. She cities nationwide studies that show housing discrimination in a problem nationwide and that Ottawa County would have to be different than the rest of the country is a problem with fair housing didn’t exist.

“That would be a real nice opportunity to start a discussion,” she said when reached after the meeting. “I’m happy that they’re doing something.”