Pelham, NC, Landlord Order to Pay $36,000 for Race Discrimination

On April 10, 2014, a Virginia landlord with property in Pelham, NC, was ordered to pay $36,000 for discriminating against prospective African American tenants. The landlord, John Sylvania Matthews, III, resides in Danville, VA, and rents property in both Virginia and North Carolina.

The case arose in September 2013, when an African American woman called him about a property that he had advertised for rent. She was told that the property had already been rented, although a white applicant who that same day called about the unit was told that it was still available.

Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a fair housing organization based in Richmond, VA, conducted fair housing testing and confirmed that the landlord was treating people differently based on race. A white tester was told in ready” and located in “a good neighborhood.” However, according to a press release issued by HOME,  Mr. Matthews

discouraged the African-American tester from renting the same property. He then steered her to other properties that were not yet available as he was still cleaning them out because “a bunch of damn n****** were living in ‘em.”

Both HOME and the individual who originally contacted Mr. Matthews filed lawsuits against him. In the case brought by HOME, Mr. Matthews was found to have violated the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to negotiate with someone based on their race and by making statements indicating a preference or limitation based on race. The court ordered Mr. Matthews to pay damages of $25,000, as well as $11,000 attorney’s fees for his actions. The separate case brought by the prospective tenant remains pending.

Click here to read a HOME’s press release about the lawsuit.

City of Dubuque to End Discriminatory Residency Preference in Housing Program

On April 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it had reached an agreement with the City of Dubuque, Iowa, to settle allegations that the City discriminated against African Americans in the administration of its Housing Choice (“Section 8″) Voucher Program.

In a 2011 review, HUD had found that Dubuque imposed policies that discriminated against housing choice voucher applicants based on their race through adoption of a residency preference system that put individuals from predominantly African American areas at a disadvantage. The preference system had been adopted in response to racial tensions and concerns about crime.

In a press release announcing the agreement, Bryan Greene, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, stated,

HUD makes certain that people from all communities are given equal and meaningful access to taxpayer-funded programs…. HUD will continue to work with state and municipal governments to ensure that no one is denied housing choice or housing assistance because of his or her race.

Dubuque’s preference system awarded points to applicants based on where they lived. Applicants living within the city received 30 points; applicants within Dubuque County received 20 points; and applicants within the state of Iowa received 15 points. However, due to the cumulative nature of the point system, in-city applicants received a total of 65 residency points, in-county applicants received 45 points, and in-state applicants received 15 points. The City further restricted applications to individuals who qualified for one of the local preference points. HUD’s review found that applicants from the Chicago area who were adversely affected by the residency requirements differed markedly from applicants from within Iowa in one way: race.

The HUD press release further noted

After limiting eligibility for the program, the City executed a voucher issuance freeze, so as to decrease the size of the program by roughly two hundred vouchers, and conducted a significant purge of the wait list. Purging removed 90% of the applications from African Americans in 2010. The new policies left only elderly or disabled out of state residents eligible for the program.

Under the terms of the Voluntary Compliance Agreement between HUD and Dubuque, the City will eliminate its residency preference system, and submit any future changes to its Housing Choice Voucher distribution to HUD for review and approval. In addition, the City agreed to undertake outreach activities to underserved populations, meet increased and expanded reporting requirements, comply with additional oversight from HUD, and obtain fair housing training for core city employees.

To read HUD’s press release on the settlement, click here.

To read the Voluntary Compliance Agreement between HUD and the City of Dubuque, click here.

Registration Open: Fair Housing & Sustainable Communities Conference, 4/24/14

Registration is now open for the Fair Housing and Sustainable Communities Conference, which will be held in Durham, North Carolina, on Thursday, April 24, 2014. The conference will take place at Golden Belt , 807 E. Main Street, Durham, NC 27701, from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm.

The conference, including a continental breakfast, is free, but registration is required.

The program will feature Stella Adams of SJ Adams Consulting as a keynote speaker and panels on “Promoting Housing Equity through Community Development” and “Achieving Sustainability through Housing Mobility.” The program will focus in part on how to advance community development while respecting the needs and desires of community residents and preventing displacement and gentrification.

To see the full agenda, speakers, and to register, click here.

The program is sponsored by the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina; the City of Durham Human Relations Division; the North Carolina Justice Center, the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, the Center for Responsible Lending, and Self-Help Credit Union. This Conference is funded in part through a grant under the Fair Housing Initiatives Program with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and with the support of the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, the Center for Responsible Lending, and Self-Help Credit Union.

For more information, please contact Jewette Williams by email at jewettew@legalaidnc.org or by phone at (919) 861-1883.

We look forward to seeing you there!

DOJ Issues Technical Assistance on ADA

On January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it has published two new technical assistance documents to assist individuals understand how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to their circumstances. The documents are:

Wheelchairs, Mobility Aids, and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices,” which provides guidance on the DOJ’s 2010 regulations regarding the use of wheelchairs and mobility aids, as well as other types of less-traditional powered mobility devices.

Effective Communication,” which provides guidance on the 2010 regulations provisions relating to communicating effectively with people who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities.

To find out more about the ADA, call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA.gov website.

Study Finds Racial Discrimination in On-Line Advertising

A working paper released by two Harvard Business School professors found price discrimination in on-line listings on the Airbnb.com website, which advertises itself as “a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world.”

According to the study, African Americans who listed housing for rent in New York charged (and received) less than whites advertising comparable housing. Because the site enourages people listing property to rent to post a picture of themselves in their listings (in order to build trust between the users), indivduals looking for unit to rent are usually able to determine the host’s race.

The study’s authors did not find that Airbnb.com itself discriminated against users, and the site alerts users to antidiscrimination laws and states that the site  prohibits “content that promotes discrimination, bigotry, racism, hatred, harassment or harm against any individual or group, and we require all users to comply with local laws and regulations.”

According the study’s abstract,

Using a new data set combining pictures of all New York City landlords on Airbnb with their rental prices and information about quality of the rentals, we show that non-black hosts charge approximately 12% more than black hosts for the equivalent rental. These effects are robust when controlling for all information visible in the Airbnb marketplace. These findings highlight the prevalence of discrimination in online marketplaces, suggesting an important unintended consequence of a seemingly-routine mechanism for building trust.

While noting that they do not believe that Airbnb.com is liable for discrimination based on its policies, the study’s authors conclude:

Given Airbnb’s careful consideration of what information is available to guests and hosts, Airbnb might consider eliminating or reducing the prominence of host photos: It is not immediately obvious what beneficial information these photos provide, while they risk facilitating discrimination by guests. Particularly when a guest will be renting an entire property, the guest’s interaction with the host will be quite limited, and we see no real need for Airbnb to highlight the host’s picture.

To read the full working paper, click here.

HUD Finds City of Dallas in Noncompliance with Fair Housing Laws

In a 29-page letter dated November 22, 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that the City of Dallas, TX, was in noncompliance with a number of fair housing and civil rights laws. The finding came as a result of a complaint filed by Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie, affordable housing developers, who had proposed a low-income housing development in downtown.  The developers contended that the City’s refusal to allow the project to be built was discriminatory based on race, national origin, and disability. The developers are represented by Michael Allen, with the civil rights firm of Relman, Dane & Colfax, based in Washington, D.C.

 A Dallas Observer blog posting about the HUD findings notes:

Lockey and MacKenzie, now supported by HUD, accuse the city of conspiring to kill their 1600 Pacific project in order to stop it from being available to poor renters who receive federal rent subsidies. The HUD letter quotes the city’s director of economic development, Karl Zavitkovsky, as saying the city didn’t want any Section 8 voucher recipients in the building at all.

The HUD finding has been likened to the lawsuit brought by the New York-based Anti-Discrimination Center against Westchester County, NY. In the Westchester case, a federal judge ruled that the County had engaged in repeated false reprsentations that it was in compliance with fair housing laws. The Westchester case was settled in 2009 with the County agreeing to $62 million in relief and damages.

To read HUD’s letter regarding the City of Dallas, click here.

To read a blog posting on the Dallas Observer, about HUD’s findings, click here.

HUD, Deutsche Bank Subsidiary Settle Lending Discrimination Case

On November 5, 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it had reached a settlement with MortgageIT, Inc., Deutsche Bank subsidiary, regarding claims that the lender had discriminated in making mortgage loans. HUD had alleged that the lender discriminated against African American and Hispanic borrowers with practices that led to African Americans and Latinos being charged higher Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) and fees than similarly-situated white borrowers, and denied minority applicants loans more often than similarly-situated white applicants. Under the settlement, MortgageIt will pay $12.1 million to compensate borrowers nationwide who were unfairly been denied a loan or whose loans may have contained terms and conditions that violate the Fair Housing Act. Any funds remaining after all victims have been compensated will be distributed to qualified organizations that provide credit and housing counseling, financial literacy, and other related programs that assist African American and Hispanic potential, current, and former homeowners.

According to HUD a press release announcing the settlement,

This agreement is the result of a complaint that HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity filed against MortgageIT, alleging that the company discriminated against African American and Hispanic borrowers by underwriting, approving, purchasing, and securitizing mortgage loans in a manner that allowed pricing and denial disparities on the basis of race and national origin. A HUD review of MortgageIT’s 2007 and 2008 internal loan data alleged that African American and Hispanic borrowers paid APRs that were eight to ten basis points higher, on average than similarly-situated white borrowers. In addition, HUD alleged that African American borrowers were 65 percent and Hispanic borrowers 72 percent more likely to receive higher priced loans than similarly-situated white borrowers, African American and Hispanic borrowers also allegedly paid, on average, $707 and $906 more in fees, respectively. HUD also alleged that African-American applicants were 45 percent more likely to be denied a mortgage loan than similarly-situated white borrowers. Hispanic applicants were allegedly 35 percent more likely to be denied.

To read HUD’s press release regarding this case, click here.

Fair Housing Project Testing Coordinator Position Announcement

The Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) is currently looking for a Testing Coordinator to assist us in our systemic and complaint-based testing program. Applications are due by November 11, 2013. For the full position announcement, please visit the LANC website by clicking here.

Asheville-Buncombe CRC Opening for Executive Director

The Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Commission is conducting a search for a new Executive Director. Applications are due by November 11, 2013. Details and a job description can be found by clicking here.

Report connects NC residential segregation to housing, environmental justice, education disparities

A September 2013 report by the UNC Center for Civil Rights examines the connection between residential segregation in North Carolina and access to essential services and opportunities. “The State of Exclusion: An Empirical Analysis of the Legacy of Segregated Communities in North Carolina” maps the potential impacts of “community exclusion” in five areas: housing, environmental justice, voting rights, municipal services, and education. The report finds dramatic disparate impacts in housing, environmental justice, and education such that Latino and African American communities are significantly more affected by these barriers than the general state population.

Using census data, the report’s holistic analysis focuses on the interrelated and persistent and overlapping challenges faced by North Carolina’s “excluded communities,” comprised mainly of low-income non-white residents.

By mapping data on these measures of inclusion, the report specifically highlights the phenomenon of “municipal underbounding,” wherein “a municipality’s limits exclude a neighborhood that would otherwise be within the municipal limits based upon its location, density, and history.” Such underbounded communities may still be subject to the municipality’s zoning jurisdiction but are barred from voting in city elections and do not receive municipal services.

In examining housing disparities, “The State of Exclusion” report indicates that as home ownership is a crucial indicator of wealth, the percentage of people in a community that rent can show wealth disparity.  While less than a third of the North Carolina general population lives in rental housing, more than half of excluded communities’ residents do.

To analyze environmental justice issues, the report examines how likely an excluded community is to be located near a solid waste facility, which often serves a nearby majority-white town. For example, while only 5% of the general population lives within one mile of a solid waste facility, more than 10% of majority-African American excluded communities do. The report also examines excluded communities’ proximity to quality public education, finding that Latino and African-American excluded communities are overall twice as likely compared to the general population to have a high-poverty or failing school as their closest elementary school.

The report’s accompanying website, http://www.uncinclusionproject.org/, allows North Carolina’s housing and other civil rights advocates to map excluded communities, presenting the opportunity for additional research on barriers to fair housing faced by vulnerable communities.

The full report is available on the Inclusion Project website: “The State of Exclusion: An Empirical Analysis of the Legacy of Segregated Communities in North Carolina.” (Executive Summary)