CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force is organizing a stakeholder’s meeting for Oct. 5 and 6 in Massena.
The task force is looking to get feedback about fair housing issues and whether renting or purchasing a home has had an adverse impact on people based on their protected status.
Matilda M. Larson, St. Lawrence County planner, told task force members Thursday that the last series of meetings had been held in April 2017 and drew a variety of stakeholders, including people affiliated with the court system, the realtors association, code enforcement officers, property managers, fire departments, village officials, United Helpers, The Arc Jefferson-St. Lawrence and the Legal Aid Society of Northern New York.
“The list is rather extensive,” Ms. Larson said.
She said their goal this year is to have an evening meeting with tenants “to hear directly from them any issues that they may have experienced as a result of their protected status and to solicit some feedback from them.”
Among the suggested venues were the Massena Community Center, Massena Town Hall or the First United Methodist Church fellowship hall in Massena. The preferred location would be the Massena Community Center because of the abundance of parking.
“If it turns out the community center is not available because of an existing scheduling conflict, another option would be the fellowship hall at the United Methodist Church. So we’re looking at a couple of other options in the event that the community center is not available,” Ms. Larson said.
Sally A. Santangelo, executive director of CNY Fair Housing, suggested that in order to draw a larger crowd, food should be made available for the tenant meeting, “even if it’s pizza and salads or sandwiches. It’s always helpful to have food or some other type of incentive to get people.”
She said that tenant meetings that have been more successful have had other types of giveaways.
“One series we did, they gave away cleaning products. Some have managed to get gift cards donated — a $25 gift card to the first so many people that attended. I’m not sure if there would be maybe a local bank or somebody that might be willing to help support that or donate for that. But usually you need to get some incentives,” Ms. Santangelo said.
The format would remain the same as the sessions held five years ago.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel if we don’t have to,” Ms. Larson said.
“I thought the format was good,” Ms. Santangelo said. “I think it’s helpful to get kind of that qualitative information from folks. I think it’s really helpful to have a conversation that kind of feeds on itself, when one person mentions something, then the others can be asked. I think it’s really important that invitations are clear that we’re looking for feedback and we want to make sure people are participating.”
Ms. Santangelo suggested flyers indicate that the goal is to hear from attendees “so that people are prepared to talk a little bit because I think sometimes folks go to a meeting and if they’re not prepared ahead of time or thinking ahead of time, it can be intimidating or difficult sometimes.”
Ms. Larson asked Chris Nyman, housing director for the St. Lawrence County Community Development Program, if it would be advantageous to invite participants from the Housing Choice Voucher Program. The Housing Choice Voucher Program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market.
“I don’t see where them having a voice in something like this would be a negative thing. When we send out recertification notices, if there was some piece of material that we can include within the packets just as a piece of information, that could be a very good way to get the word out,” Mr. Nyman said.
Ms. Larson said she’d also like to hear from students who secure off-campus housing about what their experience has been like.
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