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GUEST OPINION: Sonoma County fails test on fair housing

By STEVE HARPER and DAVID GRABILL

Housing discrimination takes many forms. It can be blatant, as when an ad for an apartment rental states “no children.” Or it can be subtle, as when a lender offers to lend at a slightly higher mortgage interest rate to a Latino homebuyer than the normal rate offered to similarly qualified Caucasians.

Steve Harper, David Grabill.

A recent report prepared for the cities of Santa Rosa and Petaluma and the county of Sonoma finds that these and other forms of housing discrimination may be a bigger problem in Sonoma County than other areas.

The report, titled “Analysis of impediments to fair housing choice,” is posted on the city of Santa Rosa’s website. Its findings are based on surveys conducted by a Denver-based consulting firm that specializes in housing issues and information provided by various stakeholders. About 25 percent of the residents surveyed believed they had been subjected to housing discrimination in renting or purchasing homes in this area. This is significantly higher than the 15 percent who report personal experiences with housing discrimination.

The report also makes some other disturbing findings:

Areas of Sonoma County are racially segregated. Some areas are more than 90 percent white. Other areas are mostly non-white. The predominately white areas have very little affordable housing, and the non-white areas have high concentrations of low-income housing. Almost three-fourths of the survey participants reported that the lack of affordable housing is a critical issue in Sonoma County.

The county lacks adequate transit opportunities and services, which makes it harder for lower-income families and people with disabilities to access housing, employment, schools and stores.

Latino applicants for home mortgage loans in the county are rejected at a significantly higher rate than non-Latino applicants.

This newspaper also recently reported that the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Rosa and a homeowners association for housing discrimination. The lawsuit asserts that city officials violated laws prohibiting housing discrimination against families with children when they allegedly tried to force some families to move from their homes in a development on Colgan Avenue.

 

The site of the development was zoned for “seniors only” by the city when it was built in 2005, but when many units went unsold, the “seniors only” restriction was relaxed. Families with children moved in and the lawsuit alleges that city officials made no effort to enforce the zoning restrictions.

In 2009, after some senior residents complained about noise and other problems with the younger families, the city moved to enforce the restriction and force the non-senior families to move.

If the Justice Department proves the lawsuit’s allegations, Santa Rosa could find itself under an injunction to stop discrimination against families with children and have to pay damages to the families who were told to move. The city may also have to send some city staff to training sessions about housing discrimination laws.

We don’t know of any other city in California that’s been sued by the federal government for housing discrimination.

The lawsuit and the fair housing analysis need to be taken seriously by city and county officials. The report recommends that the county and its cities acknowledge that housing discrimination is an ongoing problem and undertake a concerted effort to combat housing discrimination in all its forms.

Marin and Napa counties have long supported and funded fair housing enforcement. Their fair housing agencies investigate complaints of housing discrimination, do workshops for landlords, real estate agents, homebuyers and tenants and help inform the public about the requirements of state and federal discrimination laws.

Fortuitously, the Santa Rosa Housing Authority and the county Community Development Commission are considering a proposal to expand the small fair housing agency operated by Petaluma Peoples Services Center to serve the whole county. But will there be enough funding to run an effective countywide program?

Realtors, landlords and developers will benefit from stronger enforcement of fair housing laws and from strengthening the county’s reputation as welcoming to all persons regardless of race, color, family status, sexual orientation, age or religion.

Who wants to live in a county where 25 percent of its residents report being subjected to housing discrimination? Let’s make fair housing education and enforcement a priority.

Steve Harper and David Grabill are members of the Sonoma County Housing Advocacy Group. They are both Santa Rosa residents.





12 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Sonoma County fails test on fair housing”

  1. Harry Callahan says:

    Fair housing means I am trying to make the payments on my house and paying for your housing by way of my hard earned taxes dollars.

    That is not fair or affordable housing.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  2. Cuddle Fish says:

    Fair housing means you can own or rent a residence that you can afford.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  3. Jimbo96 says:

    Isn’t it interesting that at the same time this is running there is also another article in the Press Democrat stating that Sonoma County is one of the most liberal/Democrat in California. I do believe there is a direct correlation between the two…

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  4. John says:

    About 25 percent of the residents surveyed believed they had been subjected to housing discrimination in renting or purchasing homes in this area. This is significantly higher than the 15 percent who report personal experiences with housing discrimination.

    “Believed” is a far cry from “have been subjected.” It does not mean there was any actual discrimination. And of the 15% who report personal experiences with housing discrimination, is this number from more surveys done by the “specialized” consulting firm from Denver, or from other reporting areas? Just another useless opinion piece that attempts to use nonsense and turn it into statistics. There is nothing here that comes close to anything other than inuendo.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  5. Commonsense says:

    First off, a survey (self reporting) doesn’t make it so and is often off the mark.
    Second, the fact that many chose to live in areas with people similiar to themselves is human nature and not necessarily a sign of housing discrimintation.
    Thirdly, any rate of rejection for home loans is likely based on money and not discrimination and it also fails to take into account the increase in latino populations that have occured in Sonoma County over the years (and lets not touch the politically incorrect issue of illegal presence and under the table revenue many here illegally rely on).
    Take a look at the 2010 Census and the vacancy rate related to housing in both Sonoma and Marin counties and you’ll see quite a different picture, which frankly is likely the reason the “senior” facility initially relaxed it’s senior requirement. I guess instead of trying to compete and fill units, they should have let them remain vacant and fall into disrepair.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

  6. John Hudson says:

    I met David Grabill in lobby of the court about 20 years ago when we were each defending a different eviction case. I was there representing a client. It is fair to say that he was representing a cause.

    Some “housing advocates” get carried away with the sanctity of their cause. Roberta Achtenberg, while in the housing discrimination enforcement unit of HUD, threatened three Berkeley residents with $100,000 fines for “housing discrimination” when they peacefully opposed a low income housing development in their neighborhood. Achtenberg was successfully sued for violating the First Amendment rights of the three Berkeley residents.

    Ironically, Obama has appointed Achtenberg to the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights after she was successfully sued for violating the civil rights of the three Berkeley residents. Clearly she is not fit to sit on that commission. Likewise, Obama is not fit to be president after making such an appointment.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 3

  7. Missy says:

    These 2 clowns would be laughed out of any of other place – - not put in the paper. They’re hippies who never grew up. Playing the smallest violin.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 5

  8. Canthisbe says:

    “The report recommends that the county and its cities acknowledge that housing discrimination is an ongoing problem and undertake a concerted effort to combat housing discrimination in all its forms”.

    There is nothing in the article that proves that housing discrimination is an ongoing problem.

    “Latino applicants for home mortgage loans in the county are rejected at a significantly higher rate than non-Latino applicants” does not tell you anything unless the study adjusts for credit scores, down payments, employment and other factors that are taken into consideration when lenders approve or disapprove a mortgage application.

    The fact that the Federal government is suing over one particular housing project does not prove that the is any other housing discrimination problem either.

    Unless, the report contains other relevant information, why would the county and its cities acknowledge that housing discrimination is an ongoing problem and undertake a concerted effort to combat non-existing housing discrimination?

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  9. Reality Check says:

    “Who wants to live in a county where 25 percent of its residents report being subjected to housing discrimination?”

    Well, assuming the above is a factual statement and according to the last census, an increasing number of of minorities find Sonoma County an attractive place to live. Fancy that, what with all the mistreatment that’s going on.

    That “affordable housing” is concentrated might have something to do with it being more affordable when it gets built on cheaper land. And it follows that less of it will be found on more expensive land, which would make it unfordable housing. Funny how that works.

    That everyone will benefit from Harper and Grabill’s housing plan is so obvious that a lawsuit is necessary for people to see the light.

    Who needs to read the comics.

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  10. Harry Callahan says:

    It is easy to point to anything and call it unfair or discrimination especially in this time of political correctness.

    Everybody has preferences. Where we choose to live, shop, eat out and play is basically up to us.

    These guys and their minions, see unfairness and discrimination everywhere. Personally I don’t want them living next to me and I am sure they don’t want me living next to them in the commune.

    Their high opinions of themselves certainly applys to other areas of their lives which I do not appreciate. These leftists expect others to comply with their life styles, neigborhoods and front yards which are always green friendly.

    They need to go preach their message to other maxists who are waiting for the revolution to begin.

    Why does the PD waste the ink giving these high priests of moral misdirection the space?

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 5

  11. J.R. Wirth says:

    A picture is worth a thousand words isn’t it.

    What are the chances that at least one of these guys:

    a) owns a recumbent bike, a Prius, or both.

    b) has never worked in the private sector (as an adult).

    c) wishes he moved to Canada during The Nam.

    d) belongs to the Neptune society.

    e) all of the above

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 6

  12. GAJ says:

    Hmmmm…24% of the Sonoma County population in 2010 was Hispanic and 32% of Hispanic adults own their own home in the County.

    This is according to the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

    Some people see discrimination at every turn.

    http://edb.sonoma-county.org/documents/2011/hispanic_demographic_trends_report_2011.pdf

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 3

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