Pittsboro creates Fair Housing discrimination complaint tool

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PITTSBORO — Pittsboro has established a method for residents to voice their complaints if they feel they’ve been denied housing because of discrimination.

Town Manager Chris Kennedy and Town Planner Steve Schlauch worked with town staff to develop a complaint form — residing on the town’s website — for residents who feel they have been discriminated against when searching for a home in Pittsboro.

This federal Fair Housing Act, which became law in 1968, “protects people from discrimination when they are renting or purchasing a home, applying for a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related matters.”

In North Carolina, the Fair Housing Act specifically protects individuals against discriminatory actions on the basis of “race, skin color, sex, familial status, national origin, religion, and disability.”

Residents who make complaints will be referred by the town to agencies which can best address them, according to Kennedy.

“It might be us working with DPS [the state Department of Public Safety], the police department, the Realtors’ board — if there’s any discrimination there, we may report someone who is licensed as a Realtor to the licensing agency,” he said.

Kennedy and Schlauch began work on the project after Pittsboro received a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant. The grant required Pittsboro to promote fair housing.

“There are things you could do just to check off the box to stay in compliance with federal requirements, but we really wanted to steer into this because if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right and do something meaningful,” Kennedy said.

The Fair Housing discrimination complaint portal is located under the “Residents” section on the Pittsboro website’s homepage. Under the “Residents” tab, a subsection labeled “Fair Housing Standards” provides a link to a .pdf complaint form, along with other Fair Housing information. The two-page form asks a few questions about what prompted the complaint; residents are instructed to bring completed forms to Pittsboro’s town hall.

Schlauch said he wants this part of the town’s website to serve as a resource to residents who feel they’re victims of discrimination from their landlords or Realtors, but aren’t sure.

“People have been discriminated against in a multitude of ways, and a lot of the time these issues are rarely addressed if they are even addressed at all,” he said. “We know this could stem from a lack of trust in authority to do anything, as well as a lack of direction on how to exactly bring a complaint.”

Fair housing has always been an issue, and though Pittsboro’s had no formal complaints yet, it’s not uncommon, according to Schlauch.

One example of housing discrimination he cited occurred in December in Marin County, California. A Black couple had their home valued by an appraiser; the value was much lower than they anticipated, particularly after extensive renovations they’d done.

When they got a second opinion, the couple asked a white friend stand in as the homeowner, taking down all family photos in the process. The new appraisal came back at $1.4 million, almost double the original appraisal.

Schlauch said the new complaint form is a way for the town to address these forms of discrimination, which he says has been a part of the housing market for a long time.

“This is an acknowledgment that Fair Housing issues, along with all the other systemic injustices, have plagued this country for many years,” he said. “The town wants to address all of these realities by starting from the beginning and then moving forward, and so we will continue the work we are doing right now and work on finding even better tactics moving forward.”

Housing discrimination is an issue Kennedy says he anticipates will only become more common as the market in Pittsboro continues to grow more competitive.

“The ability for someone to discriminate goes up the more competitive a market is because you can pick winners and losers, and that is concerning to us,” he said. “We want to make sure the discrimination is not veiled just because we say it’s a ‘hot market’ where every home on the market has got like 20 offers on it.”

The town is also working toward making the complaint form more accessible to all residents by translating the form into multiple languages, as well as working on making it a submittable form online.

“It’s not as simple as it was 10 years ago when we could say, ‘We have an English form, and we have a Spanish form,’” Kennedy said. “We need to have it in other languages because this area is growing more and more diverse, so having it in five, six, 15 different languages, knowing that level of discrimination does not just effect one or two subsets of ethnicities.”

Schlauch and Kennedy are also working on partnering with other organizations not affiliated with the town. They said some local resources may have more access to the right tools to address certain complaints regarding discrimination.

“Depending on the type of discrimination, there may be other agencies or organizations that focus on certain justice areas that may have proper attorneys or representation, so that is one thing we will gladly take recommendations on,” Schlauch said. “Yeah, a complaint can be submitted, but we want communication to continue and we want comfort, care and a commutative relationship with the individual.”

Kennedy and Schlauch want residents to know if they have experienced discrimination when searching for housing or access to affordable housing, they can depend on their town to “have their back.”

“Knowing that you can complain to somebody if you’re discriminated against as individual going into one of these units, that’s where the town steps in and we act as a conduit to these other agencies,” Kennedy said.

“Hopefully, the new iteration of the complaint procedure is presented in a way that makes whoever is filing a complaint comfortable with being able to provide as much information as they can without forgetting anything or without fear or hesitancy and things like that,” Schlauch said. “We’re hoping that whoever fills out this form, they will feel supported by their town.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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