State sees decrease in discrimination complaints


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The number of housing discrimination complaints is growing in Iowa City and statewide, despite a drop in discrimination complaints overall since fiscal 2009.

According to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission's annual report for fiscal 2010, there has been a 5 percent decrease in the number of discrimination complaints in Iowa since fiscal 2009. In Iowa City, the number of complaints has decreased 10 percent, according to the Iowa City Human Rights Commission.

Nonetheless, Iowa City City Councilor Terry Dickens emphasized the importance of acknowledging all types of discrimination.

"Any time you have any complaints, it's a concern," he said. "You do want to investigate all of them and make sure that people are being treated fairly."

Amid affordable-housing discussions earlier this year, the Johnson County Housing Fellowship alleged Iowa City violated the Fair Housing Act and discriminated against minorities and families. In mid-October, City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes determined Iowa City did not violate the act or discriminate.

Now, Dickens said, the City Council, the housing department, and other groups, are working toward scattering affordable housing units throughout the city.

But housing complaints in Iowa City have followed the state's numbers with a slight increase.

In fiscal 2009, 11 housing complaints were filed, 19 percent. In fiscal 2010, 13 housing complaints were filed in Iowa City, 25 percent of the total complaints.

Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, said an increase in the number of filed complaints does not necessarily correspond to instances of discrimination in society, but increases in education and awareness can alter the number of complaints.

Last fiscal year, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission paired with local commissions as well as Americorps Volunteers in Service to conduct education and training programs throughout the state in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Rosenberg said these outreach efforts will contribute to awareness of rights and can lead to more case filings.

"Education, awareness, and enforcement of laws assist in preventing discrimination but nothing is [fool-proof], and discrimination exists," said Stefanie Bowers, the director of the Iowa Human Rights Commission. "It is important to have agencies for people to seek redress if they feel they have been discriminated against."

And while the overall decrease in the number of discrimination complaints may seem worth celebrating at face value, officials said, other numbers should be considered.

"I think we do a very good job, but we're not there yet," Rosenberg said. "Discrimination is more difficult today because you don't see two separate drinking fountains. For most people it's not as blatant as it may have been 50 years ago, but just because it's not as blatant doesn't mean its not as painful."

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