From a humble office in the Abbey Court Condominiums complex, the Chapel Hill & Carrboro Human Rights Center has had an outsized impact on the vibrant but struggling immigrant community. Since 2009, it has partnered with UNC students and even the local Mary Scroggs Elementary School to provide cultural and after school programs, along with ESL, computer and cooking classes to the local Latino, Burmese and Karen population.
These necessary services would go unfilled without the HRC — but, in its push to levy fines against the center to expel it from the property, the Abbey Court homeowners association doesn’t seem to mind. Rather than fine the center and impede its ability to find a new office, the association should agree at its meeting Thursday to compromise and allow the HRC to stay until May.
Given, it’s entirely within the association’s legal rights to drive the HRC away. Although a zoning variance allows the center to operate within an otherwise residential area, this variance is ultimately trumped by the homeowners association’s rules to prohibit non-residential use of the property and, more importantly, its will to enforce them.
But the homeowners association should hold itself to a higher standard. For the sake of the center’s clients, many of whom reside at Abbey Court, the association should take the moral stance of giving the HRC the grace period it deserves.
Fining the center $100 per violation, per day, as the association plans to do after Thursday’s meeting, would only detract from the non-profit center’s resources as it looks to relocate to a house or other permanent space. The association must realize that this search takes time, just as it must take the proposed May deadline as a sign of good faith for the center’s intentions to oblige the association’s request.
After two years, the levying of these fines now is arbitrary. And, after the HRC’s recent attempts to provide a workers’ center for the day laborers on Jones Ferry Road, this move appears to represent a push to drive low-income residents away in order to make way for students. Judith Blau, the center’s founder, said a broker revealed this long-term goal in a recent meeting.
In defending the fines, the association’s legal counsel, Bart White, has liberally interpreted the association’s rules in order to define the HRC as a commercial enterprise. He reasons that Abbey Court “wouldn’t allow McDonald’s or an auto repair shop” to use its property.
But these examples are apples to the HRC orange. As a non-profit organization, the center provides a community service and asks for nothing in return.
By collaborating with several Campus Y programs, the HRC has empowered students to strive for social justice at home. Students should respond accordingly and sign a petition supporting the HRC and, therefore, the community as a whole.
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