Dayton leaders adopted immigrant-friendly policies six years ago, and the city now has more foreign-born people living here than ever before.
But Dayton residents do not universally support the idea of foreign-born people becoming their neighbors, according to survey data, even though attracting immigrants is one of the city’s primary strategies for economic growth and revitalization.
Some residents have reservations about living next to an immigrant family, the survey results show, and a small share of Daytonians said they do not support having immigrants as neighbors.
The city has made great strides to achieve a cultural shift that ensures it is a welcoming community in what it does and how it interacts with and serves its citizens, said Melissa Bertolo, Welcome Dayton’s program coordinator. She is stepping down this month after six years to accept a new job.
There’s still more work to do to build cultural understanding and to have residents from diverse backgrounds interact and get to know each other on a deeper level, she said.
Dayton officially became a welcoming community in 2011, and the city promotes itself as an accepting and inclusive place for immigrants and refugees.
The results of a citywide survey released this summer found that most Dayton residents (56 percent) said they agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I would be supportive if an immigrant family moved in next door to me.”
Significant numbers of immigrants have purchased and moved into homes in a variety of neighborhoods, including Old North Dayton and parts of East Dayton.
But not everyone in Dayton is unconditionally accepting of immigrants.
About one-third of residents surveyed answered that “it depends” if they would be supportive of an immigrant family moving next door.
Eleven percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that they would support a foreign-born family moving in. The survey’s findings on attitudes toward immigrants remains virtually unchanged from last year.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she’s pleased that most Dayton residents have embraced the idea of being a welcoming community and only a small share seem to have negative views.
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Whaley said she’s not surprised or disappointed that one-third of residents said “it depends” whether they would support an immigrant neighbor. She said many people likely would support their neighbors — immigrants or not — if they are responsible.
“I think if you’d ask anybody about supporting someone next door to them, they’d say ‘it depends,’” she said. “I think that’s pretty typical response because the questions people really have about who lives next door depends on if they take good care of their property.”
City of Dayton officials have repeatedly argued that the city’s immigrant-friendly policies are a smart strategy for economic growth and reinvention.
The city of Dayton has made some of the greatest gains to become a welcoming place through more thoughtful and deliberate outreach and education involving diverse communities, said Bertolo.
The city has improved language access by translating more documents and connecting people who struggle with English with translators or translation services, she said.
Significant progress has been made in the private sector, since businesses and employers increasingly are reaching out to the city to learn how they can market job openings to and hire foreign-born workers, she said.
The city helped develop a “natural helper” program that connects immigrants and refugees with volunteer mentors and “motivators” who can assist them integrate and navigate what can be confusing systems, such as applying for jobs or training or enrolling in school, Bertolo said.
Immigrants have dramatically changed some Dayton neighborhoods.
Starting about a decade ago, Ahiska Turks fleeing violence and oppression in their homeland began relocating to Dayton.
Originally, six families were placed here by the U.S. State Department. Now, about 400 families — representing 2,000 to 3,000 Turkish people — now live in the Gem City.
Attitudes about the prospects of immigrants moving next door vary by regions in Dayton.
Some residents may need more information about what it means to be a welcoming community and why people who speak other languages and dress differently are moving into local neighborhoods, said Bertolo. She is leaving her position with the city to work for Welcoming America, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping communities become more inclusive toward immigrants.
Welcome Dayton partners with local groups to put on a community dialogue series to share information about the immigrant experience and personal stories from local transplants to promote cultural learning and understanding, she said.