Heights Community Congress celebrates its 40th anniversary
Heights Community Congress (HCC) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
HCC began in 1972 with four women who were members of the Social Justice Committee at St. Ann’s Church (now part of Communion of Saints Parish) on Cedar Road. The women suspected that prospective homebuyers were being steered into different neighborhoods in Cleveland Heights based on their race. They conducted what became known as the St. Ann’s Audit to see if their perceptions were accurate.
“They got together and formed the first fair housing audit to see if prospective homeowners were being treated equally,” said Kasey Greer, HCC executive director. “It was a big case that helped the federal fair housing law. It was the first sales audit performed in Cuyahoga County.”
Some of the women are still involved with HCC today. Greer credits the group with setting the precedent for the character of Cleveland Heights.
“I think it was already well on its way to becoming known as the community that is open and welcoming. But, with this issue, it gave Cleveland Heights the label that it doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, gay, straight, Jewish or Muslim; you’re welcome here,” Greer said. “I don’t know if that can be said about all communities in the area.”
Four decades later, the community still continues fair housing testing.
“Testing is still very much needed, as well as education,” Greer said. “A lot of people have no way of knowing they’re being discriminated against. We still send out the ‘secret shoppers’ in the real estate market.”
HCC has several programs to help educate the public about discrimination. HCC started a diversity program in the mid-80s to provide opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds and walks of life to come together. The group’s largest event is the Heights Heritage Home and Garden Tour, which, now in its 35th year, will take place Sept. 23.
“We’ve had community dialogues, group discussions, movie nights and book clubs around the topics of race, class, LGBT issues and sexual orientation—issues that need to be discussed but aren’t always the easiest to talk about. If they're not talked about, that’s when the problems start,” Greer said.
With only a small paid staff, the nonprofit depends on the generosity of its volunteers. HCC has a few regular volunteers and hundreds of volunteers who work with it over the course of the year.
“In a way, it reinforces in our mind that it’s something that’s needed,” Greer said. “While we may not be able to do things like we did in 1972, by no means do we need to stop doing what we’re doing. It’s an important piece to the quality of life in Cleveland Heights.”
HCC takes in complaints and helps individuals who believe they have been discriminated against to resolve their issues. It also works with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, helping people file complaints and taking cases to trial.
“Knowing that the secret shopper is out there keeps people motivated to do the right thing,” Greer said. “That’s a huge achievement for us.”
Going into its 41st year, HCC is exploring ways to reinvigorate itself and rally the community around its mission and related topics. HCC is planning events to engage more people and get back to its roots.
“As we move forward, we’re really trying to recapture the synergy from 1972 and bring the community together,” Greer said. “We want to try to use the technology out there to connect to people with social media and webinars.”
Yelena Tischenko is a senior majoring in magazine journalism major at Kent State University and a Heights Observer summer editorial intern.