First family to use city meeting interpreter service ask council to help with rental problems

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

Members of a Harrisonburg family who speak Spanish were the first to use the city council’s new simultaneous interpreter service when they asked for help at Tuesday’s meeting with a housing problem.

Igrid Rodriguez and her parents and sister wore headsets through which a translator interpreted the meeting and got assistance pleading their case to the council during public comment.

The interpreter service has been available since last June, after Vice Mayor Sal Romero worked with city staff to break down language barriers at council meetings.

Rodriguez and her family rent a few lots in the Park Homes mobile home park on Virginia Avenue, where they told the council that renters are charged arbitrarily different rates. Rodriguez told The Citizen after the meeting that the majority of the residents are Latinos, and many of them fear repercussions if they sought official help.

They described other grievances in the meeting, such as limitations on visitors — even their own grandchildren.

Efforts to reach the property owners on Wednesday morning were unsuccessful as calls went straight to voicemail, which was full.

The family owns the few mobile homes in which they live and pay property taxes on those homes. They rent the property on which they park the homes. Rodriguez said she and her mother have lived there since 2011, and other family members moved to the park in the following years. Their family members emigrated from Puerto Rico at different times. Her father has lived in town the longest, coming to Harrisonburg more than 20 years ago, she said.

Mayor Deanna Reed accepted their paperwork documenting the situation, as well as a petition signed by several other renters.

“We will look through this and see what agency we need to direct you to,” Reed said.

Also at the meeting: 

  • The council unanimously approved a supplemental appropriation of more than $568,000 for the Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ budget to include local, state, and federal grants the district has been awarded in its current budget.
  • The council unanimously approved special event applications for the Girls on the Run 5K on April 26, the Eastern Mennonite University Spring Commencement on May 3, the Strawberry Festival on May 16, and the Farm to City event on June 20.
  • The council appointed Roy Norville to the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board. Dale Layman and John Guinn won approval to be on the Towing Board. And the council appointed Jennifer Maclin, Thomas Hook, and Michael Goertzen to the Economic Development Authority.

Editor’s note, Feb. 26, 2020: the article was updated after The Citizen attempted to contact the owners of the mobile home park.

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