By Marc Knapp
At last week’s meeting, Charleston City Council voted 8-5 in favor of strengthening the city’s fair housing ordinance.
Council member William Dudley Gregorie was the champion of the proposed amendments to the city’s code “the purpose of which is to adopt a City of Charleston Fair Housing Act which is substantially equivalent to the Federal Fair Housing Act.”
He stated that the city’s ordinance was inadequate and did not allow adequate enforcement.
“The status quo had raped the community,” he said referring to lending practices. And, as council member Aubry Alexander succinctly put it, “the state and federal authorities had done a crappy job,” and the city was not doing its job.
Mayor Joe Riley indicated his opposition at the beginning of the discussion during the April 27 council meeting.
He said that the adoption of the ordinance and the subsequent receipt of funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that followed the implementation of such an ordinance would oblige the city to spend some $300,000 to $500,000 in setting up a bureau to administer the ordinance.
The task was really for state or federal authorities and the city shouldn’t replicate their efforts. HUD funds could be put to better use in providing affordable housing.
After that it became gray – at least for us. Gregorie was once director of HUD’s Columbia office. He clearly knows what he is talking about when it comes to housing – at least it seemed that way. We were lost in a mass of acronyms, figures and names that meant little.
He strongly disputed the figures supplied by the mayor as to the cost, suggesting it would be much less.
The head of the city’s housing department defended the veracity of the figures quoted by the administration and noted the sources of these figures.
Council member James Lewis Jr. strongly supported Gregorie and lambasted Riley for his dissembling. The council member is chair of the community development committee and exclaimed that he did not want to see the issue before his committee again.
He wanted a straight up and down vote that very night and he eventually got it. And the ordinance amendment was approved. Those opposed were Riley, along with council members Kathleen Wilson, F. Gary White Jr., Blake Hallman and Dean Riegel.
Who is right? One is tempted to say the issue was determined along racial lines with the African-American members voting as a bloc. And their support was understandable. It is the African-American community that suffers most from predatory lending and discrimination.
But the members were joined by Alexander, Michael Seekings and Timothy Mallard, and without their vote, the ordinance amendment would not have passed.
And the alleged injustices? Will the attempt to right them cost $50,000 or $500,000?
We’re inclined to think it will be closer to the latter than the former figure. It will be a heavy burden on the city in today’s harsh fiscal conditions.
Maybe HUD will pony up some more funds but as the mayor insinuated, the city may have to take funds from future HUD grants that might have gone to affordable housing.