MONTCLAIR, NJ - This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing act passed in 1968.
On Tuesday in the Fire Headquarters, 4th ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, M.D. hosted and moderated a panel discussion and community exchange centered on fair housing.
Panel members included: Amanda Smith from New Jersey Citizen Action, Dierdre Malloy, realtor and housing commissioner, Paul Barr, attorney with expertise in fair housing laws, and William Scott, Co-Chairman of the Township Housing Commission, and Montclair N.A.A.C.P. Housing Commission.
Baskerville began by addressing the audience regarding fair housing, high rents and the increasing numbers of families and individuals that see themselves as unable to afford to live in the township.
"It's important that we do all we can to keep rents affordable to prevent the exodus of families and individuals that want to remain or move to Montclair in creating and maintaining a balance of diversity throughout the township," she said.
Scott added, "Discrimination is of major concern from an NAACP standpoint when it comes to affordable housing in the township of Montclair."
Prior to the discussion Smith presented a power point presentation covering the Fair Housing Act. She spoke of who it covers and protects and what to do when one finds themselves in a situation of discrimination as it relates to race, class, disability and religion. Steering was pointed out as a key violation that her office investigates.
Smith stated that she sends teams of testers to verify if discriminatory practices are being conducted, as well as making sure that no discriminatory language is embedded in advertisement for housing. Once data is collected, it is then submitted to HUD.
"Here we are 50 years later, we are still working for fair housing because housing and a lack of housing affects every aspect of one's life and future," Smith stated.
Malloy added, "This is really important, especially in 2018, to have an open discussion whether you are a resident, owner, [or] developer."
As the discussion continued, examples of zoning were discussed as it related to where one wants to live, issues of steering from realtors, and how sub divisions of large and small properties are appraised. Also mentioned was the lottery system and section 8 policy currently open to all that applied. Currently there is no preference for township residents seeking affordable or assisted housing. Other topics raised, included rent reform and the possibility of caps and redlining.
Barr added information from a legal perspective. He said, "It's important that people know what they can do as it relates to their property taxes."
He continued, "It is your right to question the evaluation process as it relates to what you pay in property taxes."
Questions from the audience asked were related to rentals, housing for seniors, compassion animals vs. service animals, reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, unlawful rent increases, housing for residents working and living in Montclair and township taxes.
Joann Childs-Ash shared her cousin's experience with a realtor, saying, "My cousin was selling her house in Montclair and wanted to move to Upper Montclair. Speaking over the phone with the realtor a date was set and she would meet the realtor and ride to the various areas."
She continued, "Upon meeting my cousin, the realtor suggested my cousin follow her in her car. As they were driving my cousin noticed they were going back towards the Valley Road, Central Ave area not knowing the house my sister was selling was in the same area and was not Upper Montclair. When she questioned, the realtor insisted it was, until she realized my sister was a Montclair resident. Tragically, redlining still exists here in Montclair.
All of the panelists agreed that steps need to be taken to ensure that the Fair Housing Laws are enacted and that community and businesses and developers continue to find ways to engage in making affordability available to current residents as well as those seeking to move to the Township of Montclair.
Baskerville provided a list of agencies to go to with complaints: Montclair Landlord-Tenant Committee, chaired by Ruth Taylor, Montclair Housing Commission, Section 8 and HUD housing, Montclair NAACP and reaching out to legislators.
James Harris, Vice President of the Montclair chapter of the NAACP closed the discussion saying, "Those of us who have lived in Montclair for awhile , what happened to the Tenants Association?"
He added, "That's what missing, there needs to be a strong representation of tenants voicing their concerns, so lets get organized and do what we can for people who need assistance."
The panel discussion can be viewed on Montclair's channel 35.