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An $88,000 city of San Diego contract to provide outreach, training and education about fair housing was awarded recently to the Center for Social Advocacy, a nonprofit based out of El Cajon that has similar contracts with the cities of Carlsbad, Escondido, El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Santee, and shares a contract to cover the unincorporated areas of the county.

Another group, the Fair Housing Council, had held San Diego’s contract since 1989. That group also contracts with National City, Chula Vista and Oceanside. Every year before 2007, the Fair Housing Council was the only agency to apply for the contract, said Erika Rooks, spokeswoman for the San Diego Housing Commission, which handled the contract for the city of San Diego.

Cities receiving federal housing dollars are required to provide the fair housing services, which includes advocacy and enforcement for fair housing rights, education for tenants, technical training for real estate professionals, and collaboration with other agencies to promote a regional approach to fair housing.

Between the two agencies competing this year, the Center for Social Advocacy scored higher in four categories, Rooks said. She added:

CSA outlined plans to hire bilingual staff for intake of City’s complaints and to set up “storefront” locations in San Diego so residents can “walk in” for assistance. … CSA demonstrated plans to focus on helping “mom and pop” landlords to be more aware of fair housing laws. …

CSA provides services for 8 other cities within the County which … brings an opportunity to collaborate with other cities in the County, which enables clients to be served in a more efficient manner.

An appeal from Mary Scott Knoll, executive director of the Fair Housing Council, was denied yesterday by the Chief Operating Officer of the Housing Commission. Knoll alleged the Housing Commission had evaluated the agencies’ proposals based on criteria not included in the Request for Proposals, which the Housing Commission COO denied.

Knoll said she was blindsided by the funding switch.

“I have been aware for a long time of other organizations that purport to do fair housing work, but I was utterly shocked that there purports to be someone as qualified as we are,” she said. She questioned the CSA’s expertise and ability to provide the services she and her staff have provided for 18 years.

“I believe that the city and the people suffering housing discrimination are under a great disservice,” Knoll said.

But Russell Dehnel, executive director of the Center for Social Advocacy, said his organization has been working on fair housing related advocacy since its inception in the early 1970s, soon after the federal Fair Housing Act was passed. He sympathized with the Fair Housing Council’s funding loss.

“It’s a very painful process to lose a contract that you’re dependent on; it throws the whole organization into temporary disarray,” he said. “My heart goes out to them.”

But Dehnel said he’s looking forward to broadening his group’s efforts — he said the federal focus on immigration has many San Diego tenants living in fear of racial targeting and some landlords doing business in ignorance.

“This has heated up that issue for people who are undocumented, or people who are documented or citizens but these folks are victimized or targeted unjustly because of their race,” he said. “It’s a huge job.”

KELLY BENNETT

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