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Fair Housing Committee works through action plan

SALISBURY — Working toward a report due to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in July, the city’s newly formed Fair Housing Committee began to identify problem areas for housing and solutions on Wednesday.

The draft of the “analysis of impediment” includes:

• Lack of formalized structure for a local fair housing system.

• Insufficient supply of adequate and affordable housing to meet the growing needs of low- and moderate-income residents, including members of protected classes.

• Public transportation limitations that reduce housing choice for low- to moderate-income people and special needs populations.

• Lack of access to housing that accommodates special populations.

• Mortgage lending practices that reduce homeownership opportunities for people of racial and ethnic minorities.

The first impediment on Wednesday launched a discussion of how the city can improve and what steps it should take. The committee spoke about who in the community is experiencing housing discrimination and how to reach out to them. Whitney Peckman, who came to the meeting to offer input, said the city has failed to communicate with those impacted.

“What’s missing is that ability for the city to reach out on a personal level at the location of the target audience,” Peckman said. “You can have all the open houses you want to have. You can have all the events in the city you want to have. The target audience does not respond.”

Liliana Spears said the committee has to go to those in need to understand their concerns. Reaching out to the community may involve providing materials in Spanish, talking to church leaders to share information, setting up booths in community stores and posting on social media.

The committee added that there are resources within the city, including the Community Development Corp. and Housing Advocacy Commission, that many are not aware of. The members heard from Chanaka Yatawara, executive director of the Community Development Corp., and Barbara Perry, chairwoman of the housing commission, ahead of talks about the analysis of impediment.

“I knew they were there, but I didn’t know what they provided,” Spears said.

Keya Ruston said Salisbury has the agencies in place but they need to gear it up.

City Planner Kyle Harris summarized the committee’s discussion saying, “We almost need to build it into the city’s culture (that) if you have an issue, you automatically think, ‘OK, I know who to contact.’”

A representative of the Centralina Council of Governments, Victoria Avramovic, said improving communication could be short-term fix, especially since Salisbury has been recognized for its communication efforts.

Rocky Cabagnot said the city can look at different communities to find a model and adopt their communication strategies.

Education about the definition of discrimination and how to educate different people — from lenders to homeowners — needs to be a focus, Avramovic said.

Ruston spoke about several potential homeowners attempting to get a loan and being denied. Avramovic said much of what she described is illegal.

“That’s the issue — when somebody doesn’t know what they just did was discriminating and somebody should probably not be doing what they’re doing,” Avramovic said.

The solution could be accomplished by city action, she said.

The committee members were tasked to continue to look at the draft analysis and make comments. The committee will next meet May 9. The analysis must be submitted to HUD by July 19.

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