By Joel Hall
Metro Fair Housing Services, Inc., which aims to fight housing and lending discrimination in Fulton County and the city of Atlanta, celebrated its 35th anniversary on Friday. Through recent grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Clayton County, the organization will be able to move its operations into the Southern Crescent.
Nearly 200 people gathered Friday at the Doubletree Hotel Atlanta Airport for the celebration, including civil rights leaders, students, local politicians, and state HUD officials. Marion Thomas, project manager for Metro Fair Housing, said a recent $40,000 Community Development Block Grant from Clayton County and a $271,000 grant from HUD will allow the organization to advocate in Henry and Clayton counties for the first time.
"I am so excited about that because we've been having so many complaints from Clayton, but we couldn't touch them," Thomas said. "Recently, we were generously funded by the county. We will be dealing with foreclosure counseling, landlord and tenant issues, and letting people know what their rights are."
Thomas said that until the beginning of this year, Metro Fair Housing's cases came mostly from Atlanta and included complaints about major real estate companies steering blacks and other minorities away from predominately white neighborhoods, and cases in which apartment complexes put "smiley face" stickers on the applications of white people and upside-down stickers on the applications of black people.
To combat discrimination, the organization hosts educational workshops on housing rights and sends white and black "testers" to different real estate companies to ensure that home buyers are getting equal treatment, she said.
"They have a right to live anywhere they want to live," Thomas said. She added that Metro Fair Housing is looking for testers from the Clayton County area, and will be working with local organizations to conduct educational seminars on housing rights.
Chuck Johnson, assistant director of the Clayton County Housing and Community Development program, works directly with Metro Fair Housing to facilitate its funding from Clayton County. He said the nation's economic crisis and the rapid increase in local foreclosures, makes bringing housing services to the county even more important.
"With the economic situation and how it's impacted Clayton County, there is a great need out there for the full range of housing services," Johnson said. "Metro Fair Housing has been around for a long time. I think that we need to pool all of the resources out there to effect a positive change on Clayton County's economy."
Johnson said Metro Fair Housing will be able to provide the county with more information about landlord-tenant issues in the county and how fairly rental and housing acquisition is handled.
"The county needs to get as much information as possible," he said. "I think that at least as long as everyone is aware that there is a resource out there that can help them out if they have been treated unfairly, they will begin to take notice."
Foster Corbin, executive director of Metro Fair Housing, said fair access to housing is an essential part of the civil rights laws passed in the late 1960s.
"The Fair Housing Act [of 1968] was in part to promote integration," said Corbin. "I think sometimes we forget that if we don't have housing rights, we don't have civil rights. Where you live affects your whole life. Hopefully, people will come forward with complaints."
For information about becoming a tester, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (404) 765-3940.