Santa Maria City Council members and staff who created and implemented a now-repealed local H-2A housing ordinance recently participated in fair housing training as required by federal housing officials.

The training is one of several requirements listed in a voluntary compliance agreement, finalized July 30, between the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The department began investigating the city last year for possible discrimination as a result of its 2019 ordinance, which required agricultural employers to obtain discretionary permits to house H-2A workers in single-family areas.

The city entered into the voluntary compliance agreement with the agency to avoid a potential $400,000 fine and litigation, accepting requirements including the appointment of an employee housing resource officer, creation of a language access plan and participation in fair housing trainings for all staff involved in the ordinance's creation or implementation.

According to city spokesman Mark van de Kamp, the training covered an overview of federal and state fair housing laws, advertising, sex and gender discrimination, disability discrimination and accommodations, obligations to affirmatively further fair housing, administrative complaints and steering, blockbusting, harassment and retaliation.

"The trainings were given by Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California. The topics of the training and presenters were preapproved by HUD per the voluntary compliance agreement," van de Kamp said.

Trainings were given on Oct. 20, 27 and 28, with different officials attending each one. Along with all members of the City Council, who granted final approval to the ordinance, attendees included all planning commissioners, Community Development Department staff, an assistant city attorney and City Manager Jason Stilwell.

Going forward, the city is required to organize a separate fair housing training and symposium annually for the five-year term of the agreement. This training will be scheduled at a future date, van de Kamp said.

The city is also in the process of finalizing and sharing a language access plan to ensure residents with limited English proficiency can access city services and programs, as required in the federal government agreement. The plan, which van de Kamp said is receiving a final lookover by the government, was created by the city's appointed Employee Housing Resource Officer Dana Eady.

"I would expect that it will be finalized in the next few weeks and will be posted online at that time for public review," van de Kamp said.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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