Sacramento County extends life for regional fair housing agency

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 - 11:50 pm

Sacramento County supervisors extended funding Tuesday for the Regional Human Rights/Fair Housing Commission and indicated they may retain the agency after it appeared to be headed toward its demise.

Supervisors rejected a recommendation from county staff to eliminate funding for the commission, which would have left the agency without its last regular funding source. They agreed to provide $100,000 to keep the commission operating until a decision is made about its future.

The county and local cities have relied on the 50-year-old commission to help them reduce fair housing impediments to meet federal requirements and receive Community Development Block Grants that assist low-income areas. Advocates said Tuesday the agency is particularly skilled in resolving disputes between tenants and landlords.

But Rancho Cordova, Elk Grove and Sacramento last year cut ties after an audit found the commission had overbilled them for employee parking and salary payments to the agency’s executive director, as well as failed to follow federal contracting laws, among other problems. Its annual budget has fallen from $742,000 to $233,000 in five years.

Britt Ferguson, the county’s chief financial officer, said in his recommendation to eliminate funding that most of commission’s services are already being provided by other agencies. For example, Ferguson said the commission’s court mediation services are available through the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

But after hearing testimony from commission supporters, supervisors said they weren’t satisfied with Ferguson’s report and wanted more detail. Supervisors directed county staff to return to the board Feb. 25 with more information about the services provided by the commission and other area agencies.

“The need for service does not disappear just because we don’t have the support of the other entities,” Supervisor Phil Serna said.

Supporters said the McGeorge program only serves low-income residents, and is funded by a state grant that expires in coming years.

The commission’s education and outreach efforts on fair housing issues are not being provided by other agencies, Serna said.

Questions remain about the county’s long-term financial responsibility to the commission should it de-fund the agency. County counsel has said that none of the jurisdictions that relied on the commission are legally responsible for the agency’s finances. But the agency would need about $50,000 to handle records and other closing costs, and it owes $2.6 million to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System for the pensions of commission staff.

The son of longtime commission employee Betty Gwiazdon got upset Tuesday about a proposal to abandon any financial responsibility to the commission. “It’s a moral outrage ... that it’s even on the agenda,” he said.

County Executive Brad Hudson said he has talked to Sacramento City Manager John Shirey, and the two agreed that the county and the city would be responsible for the pension costs. The other cities that were once commission members only participated for a short time, Hudson said.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

Read more articles by Brad Branan

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