2002-12-06 Lakeshore Press County looks at issue of fair housing

County looks at issue of fair housing
Lakeshore Press

A proposal for a $5,000 study on whether minorities are discriminated against in local housing became a hot issue at the Ottawa County Health & Human Services Committee on Thursday.

The resolution for the study received serious objections from several committee members because it made reference to creating a Fair Housing Center, where people who believe they have been discriminated against could take their problems.

Some committee members said the proposal made by the county’s Community Action Agency would prejudice that study. Commissioner Fred VanderLaan said he had reservations about the whole study.

“I wonder whether something like this doesn’t cause more problems that you fix,” he said. “I’ll vote yes, but I hope we’re no opening a can of worms.”

Committee member Cindy Visscher said housing and lending discrimination have been identified locally.

“This (resolution) will give people a place to discuss and solve their problems,” Visscher said, nothing a local hotline set up to field inquiries on housing discrimination produced a number of calls and complaints.

But the relatively low number of calls to the hotline caused County Commissioner Joe Haveman to question the need for a fair housing center.

“It seems like we made a decision on (having) a fair housing center before we have any input on if it’s necessary,” Haveman said. “I’m uncomfortable with it. I see a role for the county to facilitate a fair housing discussion.”

“We should start at the beginning – find out what people have to say – instead of telegraphing what the conclusions should be.”

Commissioners on the county’s Health and Human Services Committee previously turned down a proposal that would have given $49,000 in start-up funds for a Lakeshore Fair Housing Center.

Haveman, of Holland, said he is not convinced that existing laws and methods to report housing discrimination are inadequate.

Committee members agreed to remove the reference to the fair housing center and rename the project as Fair Housing Dialogue Proposal before the $5,000 funding was approved.

The proposed study would bring community members together with real estate agents, property developers, government officials and others to discuss and share ideas on how to create an atmosphere of nondiscrimination in the county housing market.

The committee has been discussing the fair housing issue for more than a year, ever since a Holland Human Relations Commission study turned up significant racial discrimination among some local real estate offices and lending institutions.

One of the recommendations from the Holland study was for the city to create a local fair housing center.

But not everyone agreed.

“If we jump in with a fair housing center, we may lose other critical issues, which could be more important to people,” Commissioner Joyce Korman said.