On June 30, 2014, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project and Greensboro attorney Craig Hensel filed a motion asking a U.S. district court to prevent a nonprofit housing group from retaliating against eight women who say the group’s employees extorted sex in exchange for facilitating their participation in a federal housing subsidy program. Legal Aid and Hensel filed the motion for a temporary restraining order against the group, Four-County Community Services (FCCS), and two of its employees, John Wesley and Eric Pender, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
FCCS receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to manage the Housing Choice Voucher Program (also called “Section 8”) for low-income renters in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, Pender, Robeson and Scotland counties. FCCS, which has offices in Laurinburg and Lumberton, changed its name to Southeastern Community and Family Services on June 27. Defendant John Wesley is responsible for deciding who receives the Section 8 vouchers issued by FCCS, which help low-income renters find housing from private landlords. Defendant Eric Pender conducts inspections of participants’ homes for FCCS to ensure they meet a set of requirements.
The women first brought their case against FCCS in North Carolina state superior court in September 2012. According to the press release issued by Legal Aid:
The women say that from 2011 to 2013, Wesley and Pender demanded sexual favors in exchange for granting the vouchers and conducting favorable home inspections, visited the women’s homes to solicit sex, made sexually suggestive phone calls, exposed themselves, and touched the women sexually without their consent.
Since then, the group has sought to terminate the Section 8 voucher of one of the women, Khristen Sellers, alleging that her home did not pass inspection, even though it always did when the harassment was occurring.
Craig Hensel, one of the attorneys representing the women, noted:
By demanding sex in exchange for allowing these women to participate in the Section 8 program Wesley and Pender established a system of sexual quid pro quo that essentially forced their victims, who have few options when it comes to housing, to decide between homelessness and sexual humiliation. That’s not just disgusting, it’s illegal.
Kelly Clarke, an attorney with the Fair Housing Project, called FCCS’s actions “cut retaliation,” continuing:
They’re targeting Khristen to scare the other women into keeping quiet. We’re asking the court for a restraining order to protect these women, and any witnesses that might come forward, from retaliation for speaking out against sexual abuse.
Click here to read Legal Aid’s press release in this case.
Click here to read the Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order.
Click here to read the Brief in Support of the Motion.