Heights Community Congress: as relevant as ever
Volunteers are busily organizing the Heights Community Congress’s 34th annual Heights Heritage Home and Garden Tour. Thousands of people explore the area’s rich architectural heritage on the tour each September, but how is a tour of beautiful homes relevant to an organization founded as a watchdog for fair housing practices?
In operation since 1972, the nonprofit HCC is still a champion for equal treatment in the housing market, and it has become a major facilitator of diversity education. So, in addition to the home tour’s being an interesting afternoon outing, it provides an opportunity for residents to learn more about one another's interests, experiences and traditions. Bringing community members together to engage in dialogue, so that they realize they have more similarities than differences, has become one of the organization’s most important objectives, reports Kasey Greer, executive director.
With a full-time staff of just two, HCC continues to help community members think and act more open-mindedly by getting to know one another. Its annual multicultural festival, scheduled for May 14 at the Lee Road Library, is a good example of this work. Now in its 11th year, the festival fosters awareness and understanding, not only of the various races living in our community, but also of the different cultures, religions, ages, lifestyles and socioeconomic groups.
HCC also facilitates community conversations and forums, where citizens of all ages and backgrounds can get to know one another and converse with neighbors they might not otherwise talk with. Said Greer, “It’s one thing to successfully integrate a neighborhood. Neighbors taking the next step of getting to know each other is what really makes a community strong.”
The activities of HCC fall under two complementary program headings, diversity and fair housing. Now directed by Ruby Appling, the fair housing program began in 1972. It audits the renting and selling practices of real estate agencies, landlords, and property managers to reveal discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, familial status, or disability—discrimination that unfortunately still occurs today. The good news, though, is that once diversity education is provided, the practices tend to diminish. According to Greeg, once people are trained in fair-housing guidelines, there are very few repeat offenders.
Eager to assist with the current needs of our community, HCC has continued to adjust its programming to match the times. Fair housing is still important, but so are open dialogue, attractive neighborhoods, integrated education, sustainability and diverse community-based services. Staying connected to the pulse of the community keeps HCC as relevant today as it was 39 years ago, when it began.
Judith Eugene is a native of Cleveland Heights who provides services to senior adults and those with mobility challenges through www.LovingHandsGroup.com. She may be reached at 216-408-5578 or Judith@LovingHandsGroup.com