In order to better inform our readers of national decisions, and challenges of and changes to the Fair Housing Act, we offer these reprints of the following articles from newsletters produced across the nation.
from the Washington State Fair Housing Update
October 1998, Volume 3, Issue 4
Landmark Court Ruling For Low-Income Renters
Section 8 Tenant(s) Prevail as Northwest Housing Market Tightens
By Anne Tillery, Kathleen Russell and David Zapolsky
Bogle & Gates P.L.L.C. Law Offices
SEATTLEIna landmark decision, Western District Court Judge John C. Coughenour found that a Renton apartment complexs attempt to evict all federally subsidized tenants violated federal laws prohibiting discrimination against children, women, and African-Americans in housing. Tenants of the Avalon Ridge Apartments filed a class action suit against building owners Sunpointe Associates after a "no-Section 8 policy" was instituted in 1996. The policy forced approximately 10 to 15 familiesall single-parent households headed by women with children, to leave their residences. Approximately twenty additional families were notified of pending eviction. The court issued its final approval of the class action settlement under which the tenants were awarded $250,000 in damages and attorneys fees. Tenants who had not yet been evicted under the no-Section 8 policy will be allowed to remain at Avalon Ridge.
"This decision sends a direct message to landlords: you cannot discriminate against low income tenants simply to gentrify your property or exploit the Seattle areas overheated housing market," said David Zapolsky, the pro bono attorney from Bogle & Gates who represented the class. "Since the federal government has stopped building new public housing units, Section 8 vouchers and certificates are the only way many low-income families can secure housing in the Puget Sound region."
As a condition of receiving public construction funding, the owners of Avalon Ridge agreed to accept apartment lease applications from Section 8 recipients. However, in late 1995, management decided to discontinue participation in the program. This decision stemmed from a desire to take advantage of the booming housing market and increasing rents. Avalon Ridge stopped renewing the leases of current Section 8 tenants, forcing them to move as their leases came up for renewal.
Angela Green, a single mother of two and Section 8 tenant, was informed in July 1997 that her lease at Avalon Ridge would not be renewed. After two months of unsuccessful attempts to secure housing for her family, she turned to the law to keep from being evicted.
"As a good and reliable tenant, I saw no reason why we were being forced to move. Having to consider the possibility that my children and I might be homeless was devastating," said Ms. Green.
After meeting with other Avalon Ridge tenants, Ms. Green filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the actions of Avalon Ridges ownership and management had a discriminatory impact on women, families with children, and African-Americans.
Section 8, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is designed to help lower income families meet their housing needs. Recipients receive a rent subsidy based on their income, and the amount of the subsidy decreases as the familys income increases. Section 8 enables families to become self-sufficient and eventually assume total responsibility for rent. Here in the Seattle area, Section 8 tenants experience great difficulty in finding housing since the rents paid by HUD are too low for such an inflated rental market. As a result, families vying to get off assistance and into the workplace are forced to live farther and farther away from available jobs. Currently, the most affordable rents are found in South King County, making the trip to work extremely difficult for low income residents, many of whom rely on public transportation.
The ruling is especially significant because it comes at a time when Americas poorest citizens are in the midst of a housing crisis. Jim McIntyre, an economist at the University of Washingtons Graduate School of Public Affairs, commented, "The housing squeeze is particularly acute in the Puget Sound region. A robust local economy has sent rents skyrocketing and the regions poor scrambling to find housing."
In a recent nationwide study, the Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded that:
35,000 low-income households in the Seattle metro area are either paying more than half of their incomes for rent or are living in substandard housing.
approximately 17,000 households in the Seattle metro area are on HUD waiting lists for housing assistance.
5.3 million low-income households in the United States face either unaffordable rents or substandard conditions(.)
"Low-income people are struggling to find and keep a decent roof over their heads. For some of the families on the HUD waiting list, it has taken up to five years to get housing," said Siobhan Ring of the Tenants Union. "Meanwhile, parents and their children cope with overcrowding, high rent and substandard conditions. The Avalon Ridge case shows how important it is for tenants who have decent, affordable housing to defend their rights and protect their homes."
Under the terms of the settlement, members of the class action suit who were discriminated against will be allowed to stay at their apartments and Avalon Ridges owners must continue to consider Section 8 recipients as potential renters.
As housing markets tighten across the nation, cases similar to Avalon Ridge have arisen, indicating a growing national trend.
from the FAIR HOUSING NEWS,
October 1998, Volume 20, No. 2
National Fair Housing Litigation Recovery Reaches $95,000,000 and Counting
Disclosed financial recovery from 818 concluded housing discrimination lawsuits that were assisted by member organizations of the National Fair Housing Alliance from 1990 through 1997 has reached over $95,000,000. Those figures were included in a report, $95,000,000 and Counting, that was released by the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit at the Tenth Annual Conference of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) in June, 1998.
Seventy-nine (79) member organizations of NFHA reported on 1,160 lawsuits that were filed between 1/1/90 and 12/31/97. Of those lawsuits:
969 were "closed", 191 were "open" as of 12/31/97.
818 of the "closed" lawsuits resulted in disclosed financial recovery of $95,283,119 for the successful plaintiffs (an average of $116,483 per closed case).
151 lawsuits were "closed" with a "non-disclosed" settlement (no estimate was made of the additional financial recovery from the "non-disclosed" cases).
816 of the 1,160 lawsuits (70%) included "testing" evidence from a NFHA member fair housing organization. Much of the testing evidence was gathered by groups that have been funded to conduct fair housing tests through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developments Fair Housing Initiative Program.
914 of the 969 "closed" cases (94%) resulted in a successful conclusion for the plaintiffs.
The 575 cases with disclosed financial recovery that were filed in federal courts accounted for over $84,000,000 (88%) of the $95,000,000.
611 (53%) of the 1,160 lawsuits involved allegations of racial discrimination; 305 (26%) allegations of discrimination against families with children; 127 (11%) allegations of discrimination against persons with disabilities.
955 (82%) of the 1,160 lawsuits involved rental transactions; 80 (7%) involved sales transactions and 15 (1.3%) involved mortgage transactions.
The report includes a case by case description of the 1,160 lawsuits along with many other bits of information. FHC-Detroit Legal Services Coordinator, Michael Olshan, was the data gatherer for the project, while FHC Coordinator of Computer services, Timothy Davis, entered the information and did the aggregations on a program developed by FHCs computer consultant, Nigel Hinds. FHC-Detroit extends thanks to NFHA and the member organizations for supplying the information in the report.
$95,000,000 is the fourth report prepared by the FHC-Detroit for NFHA. The series of reports, including $20,000,000 and Counting (1990 - 1994), $30,000,000 and Counting (1990 - 1995), and $50,000,000 and Counting (1990 - 1996), has helped to demonstrate the increasing effectiveness of the work of the private, nonprofit fair housing groups, and their co-operating attorneys, throughout the United States. Working with local, state and federal government fair housing enforcement agencies, the private groups have helped send the message that fair housing laws can, and will be enforced. Copies of $95,000,000 and Counting are available from FHC-Detroit at $6.00/copy.
from the National Fair Housing Advocate,
Ohio woman asked if she is "American" or "Caucasian" wins $11,000 jury award
In February, an all-white Ohio jury awarded $11,00 to an African-American woman after a white landlord badgered her on the telephone. The jury awarded Margaret Grant, the plaintiff, $10,000 in punitive damages and $1,000 compensatory damages after a three-day trial in the Warren County Court of Common Pleas.
Andrew Margolius, a Cleveland attorney who represented Grant in the case, said that this case was unusual because the discrimination occurred only over the phone. Grant never met the landlord. Margolius also pointed out that the jury awarded substantial damages although Grant admitted she would not have moved into the apartment because it would not accommodate herself and her son.
Woman asked if she is "American" or "Caucasian"
In 1996, Grant was looking for an apartment in Warren, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown. Grant was hoping to find an apartment suitable for herself and her son. Grant saw a "FOR RENT" sign at a fourplex and called the phone number on the sign to ask about the unit.
Grant spoke to the landlord and found that the vacant unit was a two-bedroom apartment. After Grant asked how big the unit was, however, the landlord began to interrogate her. The landlord rudely asked if Grant was "an American" and if she was "Caucasian."
Grant told the landlord that she felt questions about her race and nationality were improper. The landlord told Grant that she could do whatever she wanted with her property. The landlord refused to tell Grant her name and then hung up her phone.
Landlord denies actions in court but is refuted
At trial, the landlord, whose name is Elizabeth Papiernik, denied that the conversation between Grant and herself ever occurred. Papiernik asserted that she had rented to African-Americans in the past and denied that she would discriminate against anyone. A witness testimony contradicted Papierniks statements. The witness said that Papiernik had asked for her race during a phone conversation.
Margolius said that he and Grant felt that Papierniks bold discrimination and her efforts to avoid using her name required forceful prosecution. Margolius said that a post-trial motion for equitable relief through training, monitoring, and posting of application and acceptance procedures, is presently pending before the Warren County Court.
Grant originally filed her complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
[Grant v. Papiernik, Court of Common Pleas,
Warren County, Ohio; Case No. 96 CV 1537]
HUD disclaimer notice: The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant awarded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The authors and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication.
Federal and state fair housing laws prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, color,national origin, religion, gender, familial status, disability, marital status, age, and creed. It isillegal, according to the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Montana Human Rights Act, to consider protected class status in most rental, sales, lending, advertising, or homeowners insurance decisions.
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