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Escondido hosts workshop on compliance with fair housing laws

ESCONDIDO — The process for ensuring San Diego County cities are complying with state and federal fair housing laws got off the ground and running at a Nov. 7 workshop held in the Mitchell Room of Escondido City Hall.

Convened by the San Diego Regional Alliance for Fair Housing, the workshop will be the only one of its sort held within North County. The information discussed and collected at the meeting will function as part of the survey data for the upcoming five-year fair housing cycle overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, officially called the San Diego County Regional Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 2021-25.

About a dozen residents attended the workshop, as did San Marcos City Councilman Randy Walton and Escondido Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez. City staff members responsible with overseeing housing issues from Oceanside, San Marcos, Escondido, Encinitas and Carlsbad all attended the workshop, as well.

The San Diego Regional Alliance for Fair Housing, formerly known as the Fair Housing Resources Board, is an alliance of San Diego County cities which pool resources and efforts to comply with fair housing laws. Those compliance efforts start with the survey process.

The alliance has contracted with the Pasadena-based firm Veronica Tam & Associates to carry out a data-rich housing discrimination survey, on top of the survey data collected at the forums it will hold throughout San Diego County, for all San Diego County cities. The aim is to ensure compliance with state and federal fair housing laws, as well as learn ways county cities can improve their track records in that arena.

The results of the data dive will become part of the public record and will be open to public comments in spring 2020, said Holli Anderson, a planner for Veronica Tam & Associates who also gave a presentation on the basics of fair housing laws at the workshop to serve as a framework for everyone participating in the survey.

During her presentation, Anderson said that fair housing laws serve as a protection against discrimination against specific classes or groups of people, with more of those categories listed under California state law than under federal law. Class does not refer to economic class, however.

“Whether or not you can afford housing is not a fair housing issue,” Anderson said. “Unless it is disproportionately affecting a particular group within the community. And we kind of get an idea that it’s happening based on the analysis that we’re doing.”

Anderson also explained that California’s fair housing laws are slightly more stringent than their federal counterpart, protecting more classes of people. In particular, she pointed to protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, source of income, primary language, immigration status and “arbitrary factors” as add-on’ which make the California law more all-encompassing.

“Arbitrary factors” amount to a landlord or home seller determining “whether or not you look like you’re trouble,” said Anderson. Those can include factors such as how one dresses, the way people talk or carry themselves or any other general vibes gathered by the person renting or selling housing.

Beyond surveying individuals, the five-year cycle survey also includes surveys of cities, as well. Anderson said this will include getting data on community profiles (including demographics, income and types of housing offered), lending practices (broken down by race and income), public policies in place (including zoning, city programs on housing, building code laws and other land use code) and fair housing profiles (which includes services offered and complaints received).

The responses to that data collection, Anderson explained, could inform state or federal action on fair housing issues aimed toward cities.

Martinez said the forum was important for her to attend because she believes housing is a top-tier issue in both her district and in the city.

“I came to just learn and share some concerns that I’ve heard from the community,” said Martinez. “I also invited a lot of constituents to come and spread the word” about the workshop. She added that she will be hosting additional housing meetings within Escondido in the coming weeks.

“I want to listen and learn about more challenges and explain how we can connect people to more resources because the city is a resource and I want to be able to bridge that,” Martinez said, adding that fair and affordable housing is her No. 1 issue as a member of the City Council.

Walton, for his part, said that he sees fair housing issues tied into the issue of affordability.

“The reason I attended the fair housing workshop was because of my concern that as housing becomes more scarce in our lower income and most vulnerable communities the chances of housing exploitation and discrimination increases,” said Walton. “I just wanted to make sure I fully understood the rights and remedies available to victims and so I could advise my constituents should some of these fair housing issues arise.”

The fair housing survey is available online through the end of November and can be taken in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Upcoming workshops will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 20 at Chula Vista City Hall and from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 21 at the MLK Jr. Community Center in National City.