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Rome sets Latino outreach as a goal for fair housing

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Rome City Commissioners are taking a new look at ways to reach out to the city's Latino residents following a report on local impediments to fair housing.

"It's a sizeable portion of your population base," said consultant Jeremy Gray with Mosaic Community Planning, in response to Commissioner Bill Collins' question on the need for material printed in Spanish.

The Mosaic report found Latinos account for the majority of the city's growth since 1990 and now make up 16 percent of the population. Estimates are that a tenth of Rome's residents are foreign-born and about 7 percent have limited English proficiency.

Community Development Director Bekki Fox said more federal programs are requiring bilingual documents, and the state wants to see a communication plan. She also said there's a need for more Spanish-speaking employees — giving as example a recent case where parents applying to buy one of the city's HOMEBuild affordable houses relied on their child to translate mortgage details.

"I think, not just for our department, it has to be an issue for the police department, the water department and others," Fox said.

Reaching out to under-served communities with information on their rights and responsibilities was one of the report's five listed goals aimed at improving access to good housing. In addition to bilingual marketing materials and presentations, it recommended cultivating connections with leaders in the Latino community to promote opportunities.

The City Commission and the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority have both adopted the report as their guide.

"The challenge to the city of Rome is, we represent all populations — even those who are generally not heard," Mayor Jamie Doss said.

Improving the choice of housing for people with disabilities is another goal. Gray said the city should re-examine its ordinance limiting locations for personal care homes and treat them like other residences. However, he noted that the sidewalk program is helping to make many neighborhoods accessible to jobs and schools.

"We are blessed with transportation more than in some communities, but we still need to work on it," Commissioner Wendy Davis noted. "Trails aren't just for recreation; it's a vital part of our transportation plan."

Two of the goals are mirror-images: Focus community development activities in poorer neighborhoods and support construction of new affordable housing in wealthier areas that already have access to transportation, jobs, schools and other family needs.

Commissioners also spent some time discussing ways to increase mobility. Some residents want to move to better neighborhoods but are hampered by the cost or a lack of information. There's a voucher program that allows the recipient to use it in any area, but Fox said not all landlords meet the federal requirements.

Davis said some landlords don't like renting to low-income people because they risk not getting paid, "but we need to work on the perception — Section 8 (voucher) is guaranteed income."

The report is useful in defining problems in the city, Davis said, and providing a blueprint to overcome them. Commissioner Bill Irmscher agreed, but offered a quicker solution:

"We can solve this problem by promoting new industry. Not $10-an-hour jobs. Jobs that pay $20 an hour and up," he said.