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Latino HUD Official attends Fair Housing Center 40th Premiere

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

Toledo Fair Housing Center officials welcomed Gustavo Velásquez, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to the agency’s 40th Anniversary Gala and documentary premiere at the Valentine Theatre on Thursday evening, April 23. Nearly 400 people attended the formal event.
 

CEO Michael P. Marsh addresses board
 member Julia Bryant

“I am aware of a couple of big cases that have come out of this organization and so that is why I’m really looking forward to seeing this documentary,” said Velásquez in his opening remarks.

“How this organization has advanced its work of providing equal opportunity in housing in this area and the opportunity to share with you what our priorities are and make sure we are in sync with the things they are doing on the ground.”

Velásquez was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate last fall to work directly under HUD Secretary Julian Castro, the popular former mayor of San Antonio and labeled by many to be a rising star within the Democratic Party.

Just last week, HUD reached voluntary compliance agreements with a Missouri housing authority after federal investigators found the agency failed to provide persons with disabilities and individuals with limited English proficiency meaningful access to its HUD-funded housing programs.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.  In addition, Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

“(The) agreements demonstrate the department’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that eligible families have equal access to HUD-funded housing programs, regardless of whether they have a physical disability or don’t speak English well,” said Velásquez in a statement. “HUD will continue to work with public housing authorities to help them meet their obligation to comply with federal laws.”

That kind of policing will become increasingly important in the Glass City for both HUD and the Toledo Fair Housing Center, as the Latino population continues to grow. Toledo’s Latino residents now comprise ten percent of the city’s population, with an estimated 20,000 undocumented individuals living in the metro area. Most of those undocumented families are non-English speaking, according to the Welcome Toledo-Lucas County initiative.

Mr. Velásquez is a native from México but he has lived in the United States for decades. He served as the Special Assistant to the undersecretary of Planning, in the Mexican Department of Agriculture, and as Regional Coordinator in the Office of Environmental Compliance in the Mexican Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Prior to his federal appointment, Velásquez was executive director of the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to serving thousands of Latino immigrants and other underserved populations to gain the necessary skills and capital to start and maintain their own businesses. LEDC also advocates for and supports communities to secure affordable and accessible housing.

Velásquez also spent seven years as director of the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, where he led the enforcement provisions of one of the most comprehensive non-discrimination laws in the country. He also served 2003 to 2007 as DC’s director of the Office of Latino Affairs.

Prior to moving to the nation’s capital, Velásquez served as both operations director and director of the Division of Families and Neighborhood Development at Congreso de Latinos Unidos, the leading social service provider to Latinos in Philadelphia.

He has served on numerous boards and advisory groups at local and national levels, with an emphasis on civil rights and educational organizations, as well as issues for the advancement of Latinos in the U.S. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, as well as a master's degree in government administration. Velásquez also completed the university’s Wharton School of Business Executive Program, Strategic Management and Organizational Transformation. He now lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two children.

The Toledo Fair Housing Center started when a group of women, including Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, in the Old West End noticed housing discrimination occurring in their neighborhoods. They formed a board and obtained funding.

The Toledo Fair Housing Center is a now a non-profit civil rights agency dedicated to the elimination of housing discrimination, the promotion of housing choice, and the creation of inclusive communities of opportunity.

The agency filed more lending lawsuits in its first decade of existence than the U.S. Dept. of Justice, according to Shauna Smith, the original executive director of the Toledo Fair Housing Center who is now the president/CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance in Washington, DC. The center also filed the country’s first sexual harassment in housing complaint and brokered what Ms. Smith called “landmark real estate settlements.”

 

“The Toledo Fair Housing Center pioneered very important lending cases, appraisal cases, sexual harassment cases, as well as some insurance cases,” Ms. Smith said during a press conference before the documentary premiere. “Now the center is working closely with us to bring suits against the banks for not maintaining foreclosure homes in communities of color the way they do in white communities.”

 

Michael P. Marsh is the current president and CEO.

 

A Cleveland attorney that specializes in fair housing, Diane Citrino of the law firm of Giffen & Kaminski, attended and informed La Prensa:  “I was inspired to see the sweeping scope of what the Toledo Fair Housing Center has accomplished from its founding to the present. It is always good to be reminded how together we can accomplish so much in the fight for housing justice.” Attorney Citrino speaks Spanish and has handled numerous housing cases involving Latinos.

 

Toledo Fair Housing Center board member Louis Escobar and Theresa Morris, a staff member of   Congresswoman Kaptur’s office, also attended the gala event, along with Rico Neller of La Prensa. Georgio’s Café International next-door to the Valentine Theater, catered the elegant affair.

 

The WGTE documentary, entitled “The Toledo Fair Housing Center,” traces the history of the fair housing center and its roots, as well as tells stories of the landmark cases the agency has won and its relationship with national organizations. The documentary will be featured as part of the public TV station’s “Toledo Stories” series and is scheduled for airing on Thursday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m.

 

Westfield Insurance provided $40,000 in funding to underwrite both the celebration and making of the documentary. Several company executives were in attendance at the anniversary gala.

 

On the Internet:  http://www.toledofhc.org/ 

 

Copyright © 1989 to 2015 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/28/15 20:11:22 -0700.

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