The Winston-Salem Human Relations Department (HRD) and Human Relations Commission (HRC) provide the voice and the opportunity for people to be afforded equal rights in their real estate transactions, including the buying and renting of their homes by enforcing the Fair Housing Act. The Department not only provides conciliation possibilities for citizens to work out their alleged housing discrimination complaints, but it also conducts investigations into discrimination allegations. Upon the completion of the investigations, a final determination is made by the director to decide whether there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has taken place. If reasonable cause is determined, the parties are advised and the City Attorney's Office will take over the case. If reasonable cause is not determined, the parties are advised that there appears that no discrimination occurred. Despite the determination, the parties always have the right to pursue the matter with their own personal attorneys through a court of law.
The Human Relations Department and Commission also provide mediation for landlords and tenants regarding disputes and concerns about their rights as mandated by North Carolina General Statute Chapter 42. While the department staff has the authority to investigate and mediate landlord/tenant complaints, per city ordinance, the department relies on the parties involved to enforce the landlord/tenant mediation agreement. If necessary, the parties may also opt to have the agreement enforced in court.
As of August 2021, the department administers and enforces the City’s non-discrimination ordinances in the areas of employment and public accommodations. Both ordinances prohibit discriminatory practices based on the protected classes of persons identified in the ordinances. Furthermore, the department will provide employment and public accommodations outreach and educational opportunities for businesses, organizations, and individuals in the local community.
Encouraging and Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The final major function of the department and commission is to encourage and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Internally, the department is responsible for promoting, recommending, and administering policies, strategies, and practices that promote opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the organization. The department will work collaboratively with city departments to examine existing internal policies, procedures, and programs that may perpetuate systematic inequities and institutional racism. We will also use an equity lens when developing new policies, programs, and citywide initiatives.
The department also works with three advisory boards and commissions: the College Advisory Board, the Human Relations Commission, and the Youth Advisory Council. The department staff promotes interpersonal relations and interactions amongst its citizens by providing various town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, and other community events that promote and celebrate the theme of cultural diversity. The department staff and the Human Relations Commission hold events such as:
The "I Have a Question About…" Interfaith Panel Discussions
The Annual March for Homeless Children
The Black History Month Showcase of Song
Cultural Inclusion Month
The Fair and Affordable Housing Summit
Past events and programs held include Beyond Soul and Salsa African-American/Hispanic Relations Forums, the Jena 6 Community Forum, and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Noon Hour Observance. The HRC and HRD partners with community organizations to hold programs such as the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast, Juneteenth, India Fest, and Fiesta.
This is just a snapshot of what we do to serve the community. Human Relations is an active and viable part of the community. We invite you to join us in our continuing efforts to make the City of Winston-Salem a place where everyone is treated fairly!
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents of legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability) within the United States.
In 1975, the Winston-Salem Human Relations Commission was established as an advisory board by city ordinance by the Board of Aldermen (now the "City Council"), pursuant to the provisions of G.S. 160A-492. The Commission was originally established to study race relations and forms of discrimination.
In 1978, the Board of Aldermen approved salaried staff for the Commission, thereby creating the Human Relations Department.
In 1990, the Board of Aldermen adopted the City of Winston-Salem Fair Housing Ordinance. As such, the ordinance is substantially equivalent to the Federal Fair Housing Act administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The duties of the commission were established to:
Study problems of discrimination in any or all fields of human relationship and encourage fair treatment and mutual understanding among all ethnic groups in the city
Promote equality of opportunity for all citizens
Provide channels of communication among all ethnic groups
Encourage the employment of qualified people of all ethnic groups
Encourage youth to become better trained and qualified for employment opportunities
Anticipate and discover those practices most likely to create animosity and unrest among racial and ethnic groups and by consultation seek a solution as these problems arise or are anticipated
Hold such meetings as the commission may deem necessary or proper to assist in carrying out its functions
Make recommendations to the city council for action it deems necessary for the furtherance of harmony among racial and ethnic groups in the city
Perform duties consistent with general law as may be assigned it from time to time by the city council
Perform such other duties as necessary to enforce the powers assigned it in accordance with Article IV, the Fair Housing Ordinance of the City of Winston-Salem, of Chapter 38 of the City Code
Facilitate partnerships with fair housing and cultural community organizations to further the purpose of the commission
The nature and the extent of its policies and programs are determined and set by the commission and shall be implemented within accepted policies and procedures of the city.
The Human Relations Department was established to enforce the jurisdictional authority of the Human Relations Commission. Shortly thereafter, the city established a formal cooperative agreement with HUD, for the Human Relations Department staff to enforce fair housing laws in Winston-Salem under the city´s ordinance by sharing funding for processing, investigating, and disposing of housing discrimination complaints filed within the city limits of Winston-Salem, including complaints filed against public housing agencies (W-S Housing Authority or tax credit property).
In 2010, the City Council approved resolutions designating the Human Relations Department as the administrative body for the Youth Advisory Council and the College Advisory Board. Both the Youth Advisory Council and the College Advisory Board serve as advisory bodies to the City Council.
In 2021, the City Council voted unanimously to authorize the Human Relations Department to enforce non-discrimination ordinances that prohibit discrimination in employment and public accommodations.
In 2021, the City Manager merged added the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as a primary focus for the Human Relations Department, which created the Human Relations/Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department.