By Beth Lawrence
Jackson County Planning Department is holding a meeting to let residents know what their rights are when it comes to housing.
A representative from Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity will present information on the rights and responsibilities of landlords, tenants, and potential buyers and sellers followed by a question and answer session.
The representative will discuss, “How fair and equal opportunity in housing is the right of everyone no matter their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability or familial status as established in the Federal Fair Housing Act,” said County Planner Caroline LaFrienier.
The meeting is a continuation of the county’s process to address housing issues in the area and create a fair housing plan.
It began as part of a requirement for a Community Development Block Grant for infrastructure that the county received from the N.C. Division of Environmental Quality to update the water and sewer substructure at Blue Ridge School.
As part of the plan, the Planning Department and a number of other entities examined obstacles to equal housing in the county.
Last December, 17 stakeholders from a number of interests came together to discuss those impediments.
The group studied “all aspects of housing” in Jackson and discussed which issues kept housing including rentals and mortgages from “being fair and equally accessible to everyone” LaFrienier said.
They identified a number of problems, such as:
• Construction, renovation and acquisition cost.
• Lack of safe and sanitary housing options for all ages and backgrounds.
• Tenant selection plans.
• Availability of living wage jobs.
• Lack of minimum housing code and standards.
• Lack of education of fair housing laws in the community specifically for landlords.
The session is being held as a result of the group’s findings on exactly what residents understand about housing laws.
“The biggest impediment to fair housing in our community is lack of education,” LaFrienier said. “A lot of people are just not aware of fair housing laws.”
The session is geared toward anyone with an interest in housing from real estate agents, to contractors and financial institutions in addition to landlords and renters.
The meeting’s goal is to spread the message that fair housing is the legal right to have access to safe, affordable housing and without discrimination.
Fair housing laws protect and apply to everyone, including renters and owners and those looking to buy a home as well as lenders and insurance brokers.
“It guarantees that regardless of your age, race, religion, family situation or level of ability, you have the right to choose the housing that’s best for your needs – with no outside preferences or stereotypes being imposed,” LaFrienier said.
The meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 at the Jackson County Department on Aging Heritage Room located at 100 County Services Park. There is no need to preregister.
For more information, call 631- 2283.