2003-01-15 Grand Haven Tribune County commissioners approve proposal to examine fair housing

County commissioners approve proposal to examine fair housing
Grand Haven Tribune

The county Board of Commissioners, with a 7-4 vote Tuesday, approved a proposal to identify appropriate methods, through focus groups, to create fair housing environment in the area. The Fair Housing Dialogue Proposal was brought to the board by the Ottawa County Community Action Agency. According to the proposal, the cost the program would not exceed $5,000.

The proposal spurred much debate. Commissioner Joyce Kortman, who voted against the proposal, said the problem is a lack of reasonably priced homes, not unfair housing. “(There is) not enough affordable housing in the community,” Kortman said. Citing her experience in real estate, Kortman said she believes that developers and banks do their best to try to be fair to customers.

Commissioner Cynthia Visscher disagreed. “It is important for everyone in the community to have a voice and a dialogue together,” she said. Visscher called it “irresponsible” for the government to suggest that people in the community get together to solve fair housing issues without bringing in all possible resources to help facilitate a solution. “If we strongly believe this is a community issue…Showing that belief by having this forum is appropriate,” Visscher said.

“It’s taking leadership and facilitating community dialogue.” Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said the proposal was a good move. “I do think it’s positive that they (county officials) are at least opening up a discussion about his,” she said.

According to Harrison, the Fair Housing Dialogue Proposal is a product of the first Ottawa County Summit on Racism, sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance in 2000. Harrison said the Alliance originally sought funds from the county for fair housing services center. Although the $49,000 proposal was never put to a vote, Harrison said the group did obtain a $15,000 matching funds grant form Steelcase.

The purpose of the center, Harrison said, will be to look at ways to ensure diverse neighborhoods and eliminate discriminatory housing patterns. The center will also be designed to investigate complaints, educate the community about fair housing, and look into claims of discrimination and to enforce laws concerning those matters. The center may serve as a place for dispute resolution, she added.

“There are many, many avenues of resolution, of which litigation is one,” Harrison said. Harrison said coordinators, with the hop of Grand Rapids housing representatives, wrote the proposal for a fair housing services center in June 2001.

Through the fair housing proposal that was recently approved, Harrison said she hopes the county will recognize impediments to fair housing and support the cause. “This is the law…and the law needs to be enforced,” Harrison said.