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While fair housing issues exist in Hot Springs, Carol Johnson, executive director of the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission, said in a recent interview that there have not been a large number of cases.

"To Hot Springs' credit, we don't get a lot of housing discrimination cases out of Hot Springs -- some, but not a lot," Johnson said Friday.

"The whole issue is making sure that we have open and accessible access to housing that's affordable and livable. I think every city across the country, not just Hot Springs, has issues with that," she said.

To that end, the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission will hold its 2019 Fair Housing/Fair Lending Conference in Little Rock April 16-19.

Johnson, in announcing the conference, said it will "celebrate our unity in promoting equal access to housing in Arkansas communities and honor those who have assisted in efforts to ensure housing protections in Arkansas."

Johnson told the newspaper that despite having a higher concentration of people in urban areas such as Little Rock and even Hot Springs, Arkansas sees more fair housing issues in primarily rural areas. She said this is usually the case because the housing market is less competitive with fewer options for buyers and renters in those areas.

"We want to make sure that there are no barriers to housing, that we're not creating a homeless population," said Johnson, "Everybody deserves to have a place to live, and we want them to have that. And not only that, but a safe, decent, diverse, affordable, place where we can build communities," she said.

With Act 1785 of 2001, Arkansas established efforts to reinforce fair housing and lending rights for all citizens.

As the state's only civil rights enforcement agency, the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission is a statewide, quasi-judicial regulatory enforcement agency established by Act 1785 that assists and supports individuals who feel they are being treated unfairly for an illegal reason, such as race, gender, economic class, or disability in regards to housing.

Johnson said Arkansas is the only state without a "warrant of habitability" statute, meaning there are no standards to which landlords are required to offer or maintain rental properties.

Access to schools and education, nutrition, medical care, and other vital resources are all linked to access to housing, Johnson said.

In Hot Springs, fair housing issues have come in the form of maintenance issues being handled in a different manner or time frame from tenant to tenant, also termed as "different terms and conditions of rental."

Johnson said the commission has also seen cases in Hot Springs dealing with "discriminatory advertising," or individuals being "steered from a particular area because of race or national origin."

Another category of fair housing issue that has cropped up in Hot Springs pertains to treatment and accommodation of individuals with disabilities in rental properties.

An example of this is the requirement for all modern ground level floors of multiple family housing to have door frames with a minimum width of 36 inches for wheelchair users.

Other reasonable accommodation issues in Hot Springs have involved individuals who utilize emotional support animals whose landlords have attempted to charge these individuals a fee for keeping the animals at rental properties. However, this fee is only applicable to pets, and not service animals, and is therefore unlawful.

Proactivity, especially awareness of rights and responsibilities on the parts of tenants, lenders, and landlords is the first step to ensuring fair housing for all, Johnson says.

"It's important for everyone. We don't live in a vacuum," she said.

The conference, themed "Building the Next Generation of Diverse Arkansas Communities," will begin April 16 with a film screening of "13" at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. On April 17, a historic civil rights bus tour and opening reception will be held at the cultural center, and the conference will conclude April 18-19 with two full days of sessions at the Little Rock Marriott.

Speakers will include Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, U.S. Rep. French Hill, Little Rock Mayor Frank D. Scott, Diane Yentel with the Low Income Housing Coalition, and other state and national judges, practitioners, enforcement agents and community advocates.

Local on 03/25/2019

Print Headline: Statewide conference to emphasize equal access to housing

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