Fair Housing Board works to aid Marietta residents

MARIETTA — The plight of a couple unable to find a willing landlord was the first discussion topic of Marietta’s Fair Housing Board Friday.

“Basically we’re homeless, and we can’t find a place — nobody will rent to us because of the eviction that we got,” said Deena Arnold as she and Bruce Gucker addressed the board.

Chairman of the Board Felix Burrows explained to the pair how their complaint would be filed and the board would pursue mediation but he noted that the role of the board isn’t just about the paperwork.

“This board is based on trying to help both residents and home providers,” he said. “Our goal is to protect people from discrimination in all its forms. How else do we take care of people and show Marietta is a loving and compassionate city?”

In the case of Arnold and Gucker, Burrows and Vice Chairman Ron Friend immediately looked to their contacts to move the couple quickly from living in a hotel room draining limited resources to a more permanent solution.

“We will consult with the (Marietta) law director and with Robin Bozian (program managing attorney for Southeastern Ohio Legal Services) and be in touch with you regularly…we’re not waiting until next month’s meeting to move on this,” Burrows told the couple.

This stood as an example of the mission of the city’s fair housing board, to mediate solutions that bear no mind to political or economic status, explained Burrows.

“I’m homeless right now because you’re homeless,” he said to Arnold and Gucker, promising open communication with the process before the couple left the meeting to go to work.

The board was initially formed in the 1970s under guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development but hadn’t met for many years before a rebirth three years ago.

Marietta Development Director Andy Coleman, who serves as the board’s secretary, explained that the charge of the board falls under the goals of federal Community Development Block Grant programming and as such can influence future appropriation of funds to the city.

“In 2015 we operated with a zero dollar budget, 2016 with $2,500 and now (with the 2017 CDBG funds) we’ll manage the $5,000 allocation,” he said. “But HUD is looking for more spending on fair housing and I’m sure there is more we can do.”

Goals for the board this year include community education on the premise of fair housing and individuals’ housing rights and protections, advertising of available services and mediation of housing disputes.

“I’d like to see the continued practice of fair housing town hall meetings alongside the CDBG meetings,” noted Coleman as the group discussed a quarterly plan to meet specifically in the neighborhoods of the city.

Councilman Geoff Schenkel, chair of council’s Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee, said he was encouraged Friday by the ease of discourse in the board’s meeting, noting that exchange of ideas is what he would like to see in other meetings he attends.

“There is a great deal of fear in the community to speak out about housing,” replied Burrows. “I hear often ‘I best not say this because I will lose my house’ and that’s not fair.”

The board meets on the second Friday of every month in room 10 of the Armory, 241 Front St.

Fair Housing Complaint forms can be found at bit.ly/MariettaFairHousing.


At a Glance

Marietta households with any of four CHAS housing problems

* Lower west side and downtown: 235 households, 31.76 percent of total households

* Harmar Hill: 300 households, 30 percent of total households

* Norwood: 580 households, 35.05 percent of total households

* North Hills and Rathbone area: 310 households, or 27.56 percent of total households

* North central Marietta (defined as from Scammel, Tupper and Wooster streets to the Washington County Fairgrounds): 640 households, 33.42 percent

Source: Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development


Marietta Fair Housing Board

* Felix Burrows, chairman

* Ron Friend, vice chairman

* Denny Dimit, complaint mediator

* Karen Strahler, complaint mediator

* Andy Coleman, Marietta development director and board secretary

* Paul Bertram, Marietta law director and non-voting advisor

* The role of the board is to facilitate resident-housing provider communication, address community and neighborhood housing concerns, mediate housing disputes and maintain records for the purposes of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Fair Housing Statistics

* There are four housing problems identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy data:

1. Housing unit lacks complete kitchen facilities

2. Housing unit lacks complete plumbing facilities

3. Household is overcrowded

4. Household is cost burdened

* A household is said to have a housing problem if they have any one or more of these four problems