Iconic DuPage housing leader vows to press on in retirement

 
 
Updated 10/3/2011 4:45 PM
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  • Bernie Kleina, the former executive director the HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton, says he will continue his work to raise public awareness about fair housing and civil rights.

    Bernie Kleina, the former executive director the HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton, says he will continue his work to raise public awareness about fair housing and civil rights. Daily Herald file photo

When Bernie Kleina first got involved with fair housing issues during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, it was with a camera in his hand.

The 75-year-old Wheaton resident has since taken countless photographs and produced dozens of films about poverty and housing issues, including one video about housing discrimination that has been used to train federal authorities.

So while Kleina retired last week from his 41-year career as executive director the HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton, his personal quest to raise public awareness will continue.

"I'd like to spend more time on my photography, which is connected with fair housing and civil rights," said Kleina, a former Roman Catholic priest whose color photographs of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been shown in venues across the nation.

Kleina said the complaints HOPE deals with on a daily basis shows that the battle against housing discrimination is "far from over."

"Sadly, the fight continues," he said. "Hopefully, we're going to continue it as well."

Meanwhile, Anne Houghtaling has been named to carry on at HOPE where Kleina left off.

The 43-year-old attorney and fair housing advocate started Saturday as the nonprofit agency's executive director.

"Anne is seasoned, very experienced and has a history with HOPE," said Pam Terrell, a member of the board of the directors. "Most of all, she is on board with the mission of the organization."

Houghtaling worked as director of compliance at HOPE from 1996 to 2001 and also coordinated national testing projects, including the 2000 HUD national rental and sales study for the Chicago area.

After spending a decade in Washington, D.C. with the National Fair Housing Alliance, Houghtaling said she wanted to return to the Chicago area.

"I felt like HOPE really needed somebody who knows fair housing and knows how to manage an organization," Houghtaling said. "I thought I was the right person for it."

HOPE Fair Housing was founded in 1968. Kleina became its first paid staff member two years later.

During his decades with the organization, Kleina made significant contributions that will "never be duplicated," according to Terrell. The group has worked to expose errant landlords, municipal officials, real estate agents and lenders who failed to adhere to fair housing laws.

"He (Kleina) has worked very hard through the organization to make sure that people can freely choose a place to live," Terrell said.

Houghtaling described Kleina as "an icon."

"He did a fantastic job at a time when it wasn't easy," Houghtaling said. "There are still issues, but there have been a lot of changes that have been made. And I think that's his legacy."

She said HOPE will continue to investigate complaints, perform outreach and provide consulting services for the industry. She plans to have the group examine "systemic issues" that have an impact on communities.

In the meantime, Kleina said he is helping HOPE seek grant money to create a curriculum to teach high school students about fair housing and the Civil Rights Movement. He also is working on projects for groups in Alabama, Wisconsin and Nevada.

"I intend to do more," Kleina said. "I am never satisfied. Why should anyone rest on what they have done in the past? Let's see what we can do now to make life a little better for people."