Workshop covers areas of concern over local housing

Published 2:34 am Friday, October 17, 2014

Abandoned homes, absentee landlords, loitering, graffiti and crime … those are some of the issues Salisbury residents said they deal with during a workshop put on by the city’s Housing Advocacy Commission Thursday at City Hall.

Abandoned homes are the biggest issue the commission faces, according to Chris Branham, manager of the city’s code enforcement division. He said his office did a study three years ago that found 800 homes that appeared to be vacant — there are around 12,000 residential parcels, including apartment complexes, in the city.

“It’s all around the city,” Branham said about vacant and abandoned homes.

Crime is higher in neighborhoods that have a lot of vacant and unkept houses, Branham said.

He talked about the “broken window” concept, which stresses fixing small issues before they become big ones. He said the community’s residents are on the frontline when it comes to identifying problems and reporting them.

“I don’t see everything they see,” he said, “We encourage people to call us.”

He also said there’s a better chance property owners will fix the problem when an ordinance is enforced.

Branham said his division works to find owners of abandoned houses and persuade them to take care of the property.

City Council created the commission in 2012 to focus on developing and updating city ordinances relating to housing. It also deals with issues of fair housing and works to improve housing conditions in and around the city.

During the workshop, groups at each table were asked to write down the issues they see in their neighborhoods. Common themes were trash in yards, people loitering and unmaintained and abandoned homes. Salisbury City Councilwoman Maggie Blackwell is the liaison to the Housing Advocacy Commission and was at the meeting. She said housing issues are important because they’re about quality of life.

“You’re input is vital to our city as we prioritize our housing work,” she told the group of more than 80 people.

Willie Ratchford, executive director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee, also spoke at the workshop, talking about housing discrimination.

He said growing problems include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to federal statistics, Ratchford said, there are two million instances of housing discrimination a year in America, but only around 30,000 of them are investigated.

“That’s a tragedy,” he said.

Ratchford said racism is still a problem in housing discrimination, but that it’s more subtle than it used to be.

Case studies have found, he said, that a white person and black person with the same credentials, job and income who tour an apartment complex separately — the white person arrives when the black person is leaving — will be treated the same throughout the tour . At the end of the tour, the black person is told there are no apartments currently available, but the white person will be told there are units available immediately.

A lot of times the victim doesn’t realize they’re being discriminated against, Ratchford said.

Ratchford also stressed that there must be a partnership between residents and the city when it comes to solving housing problems.

The Housing Advocacy Commission meets on the first Thursday of each month at 4 p.m. at City Hall at 217 S. Main Street.