Speakers raise housing questions during Salisbury City Council meeting

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In a Salisbury City Council meeting devoid of major policy decisions, income inequality and race took center stage during a public comment period Monday.

The discussion followed a presentation focusing on money used for home rehabilitation projects and mentioned Brenner Crossing Apartments. One of the discussed funding sources was the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which provides money to local communities for building, buying or rehabilitating affordable housing to rent or own. All members of the public who spoke following the presentation questioned whether the money and its accompanying programs were truly working for minority and poor populations in Salisbury.

Salisbury resident Nan Lund specifically focused on home loans in her comments. Lund said data collected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the presented report showed loan applications were denied at different rates depending on gender, race and ethnicity. Race was a more significant factor in whether a loan was approved, she said. As for the home loans that were issued, Lund said many included a higher-than-usual interest rate.

Small business loans showed a similar trend, she said.

“The loans were intended to target the low to moderate income communities as measured by the median family income to the area,” Lund said. “Instead, a substantial portion of these loans went to tracts in which the median family income was over 120 percent of the median family income in the county.”

Housing and Urban Development in the report asked for local banks and lending institutions to be contacted to explore additional investment in low income areas. Lund asked whether any of the conversations had taken place.

Lund followed Salisbury resident Whitney Peckman, who focused her questions on minority and poor communities’ home ownership rates. Peckman said increasing home ownership would help the city’s tax base.

However, the poorest of Salisbury residents often don’t understand their rights to fair housing, Peckman said. She proposed a rotating panel that would, among other things, go into less financially prosperous communities and provide credit counseling services.

East Spencer resident and community activist Kenneth Fox was the last of the three to speak. Fox encouraged the board to seriously consider the report presented Tuesday and take immediate corrective action. He said some of the items and statistics mentioned in the report are symbols of institutional racism.

City council members didn’t respond immediately following the public hearing to comments made during the meeting.

Salisbury’s community planning services director made Tuesday’s presentation. The funding discussed on Tuesday, however, involves a number of different organizations besides the city of Salisbury.

In other business from Tuesday’s meeting:

• The city council approved the voluntary annexation of a planned expansion of The Gables at Kepley Farm development.

The city of Salisbury was petitioned for the annexation — a total area of 17.69 acres. It takes effect immediately, according to City Engineer Wendy Brindle. Brindle said the immediacy was necessary for the project to proceed as planned.

An estimated 70 lots would be part of the planned expansion for The Gables. The already completed part of The Gables subdivision is in the city of Salisbury.

• City council delayed a decision on a special use permit that would allow a day care on Willow Road to expand the number of children it serves.

The day care — named Learning Playhouse — was seeking a permit from the city to expand from a maximum of eight to 15 children. The day care is located at 433 Willow Road in Salisbury.

Council members received statements from city staff and the day care owner, but couldn’t take formal action on the permit until receiving a statement from an appraiser or realtor.

• Council members amended plans for a sidewalk project running along Jake Alexander Boulevard and Statesville Boulevard near West End Plaza.

The amendment removed a portion of sidewalk from Jake Alexander because of a shortage in funding.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.