affordable housing Pearson

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin speaks as Champaign County NAACP President Minnie Pearson looks on during a panel discussion on affordable housing Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, at the Housing Authority of Champaign County's offices in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — Two days after community leaders identified the roadblocks the working poor face in gaining access to affordable housing, the president of the Champaign County NAACP announced steps her organization plans to take.

Minnie Pearson, who was among the panelists at Wednesday’s Housing Authority of Champaign County-sponsored forum, said the local NAACP chapter will:

— “Study low-income public-housing conditions in our local communities.”

— “Receive and seek to adjust complaints of housing discrimination.”

— “Oppose all restrictive practices, whether (related to) public or private housing.”

— “Disseminate information and render such other assistance which may eliminate discrimination in housing.”

“In addition to effectively addressing the housing costs and the neighborhood development options in Champaign County, we must always keep in mind, first and foremost, that we are all human beings and we all have the right to equality in all facets of our lives,” Pearson said Friday in a statement to News-Gazette Media. “No one group should be making the decision about where another group of people should or should not live.

“I think we can all agree that low-income wages are one of the key causes keeping many people of color from being able to rent even low-cost housing, or even housing that is replacing older homes in their same neighborhood.”

Pearson called on community leaders to “do problem-solving with a thoughtful spirit” and advocate to increase the minimum wage. Only then, she said, can the community begin to solve the county’s affordable-housing problem — “for not only a diverse population of people of color that continues to grow in our transient county, but (for) our local senior citizens, many of which are oftentimes asked to leave or be removed from their existing older homes in a neighborhood where they have lived for many years.”

“It is a traumatic experience when older citizens see their homes, no matter how old the homes are, being torn down and replaced with a newly built home or apartment in the same neighborhood, which they end up not being able to afford to buy or rent,” she said. “This is ... a big concern for not only our seniors, but for single mothers and caregivers, veterans and people who are re-entering and need cost-affordable housing and the ability to return to their families.”

Part of the problem is changing for the better, Pearson said, but the focus needs to expand.

“I have found that housing advancements in Champaign from late 2017 to date demonstrate that people are beginning to listen and talk to one another, but this dialogue is not creating higher-paying jobs for people of color,” she said. “Oftentimes, black contractors are not being hired on these building locations.

“A more serious, fair-minded dialogue with everyone welcomed and seated at the table which David Northern and his staff at the Housing Authority is initiating” needs to happen, she said, with a focus on equity and coming up with “cost-effective ways to meet the needs of all of our citizens, including re-entry people, free of biased practices.”