Category Archives: Housing Discrimination

HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES MADE EQUAL FILES HOUSING DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT AGAINST RICHMOND RETIREMENT COMMUNITY

Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) has filed a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) against The Towers Retirement Community in Richmond, Va. and its Roanoke-based parent company Retirement Unlimited, Inc. The Virginia nonprofit fair housing organization, represented by Washington D.C. law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC, claims The Towers’ policies on the use of motorized mobility devices constitute illegal housing discrimination against people with physical disabilities.

The Towers requires residents using motorized mobility devices to pay an additional $1,500 security deposit and obtain liability insurance. Another instance of illegal housing discrimination is the requirement that such residents obtain additional assessments of their disability from the complex’s staff. Finally, Towers residents who use motorized mobility devices are barred from using the property’s transportation services, despite the fact that a mandatory monthly transportation fee is factored into each resident’s total rent cost. Applicants and residents of The Towers who do not use powered mobility devices are not subject to these additional onerous requirements.

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s disability, including creating barriers to access or applying different terms and conditions to persons with disabilities.

According to HUD, disability complaints constituted the highest percentage of all fair housing complaints from 2007 to 2012 (44 percent in 2012). The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) reports that 19 percent of the non-institutionalized U.S. population has a disability.  Creating equal access to housing without discrimination for persons with disabilities is an important part of preserving independence.

HOME’s complaint was filed together with the complaint of a 71-year-old woman who utilizes a motorized scooter for all aspects of her daily life after losing her ability to walk from a condition known as severe peripheral neuropathy. The complaint alleges that the complainant’s use of a power scooter is a necessary factor in her freedom and independence, and the fines and restrictions imposed on her as a result of her limited mobility are illegal.

HOME receives more fair housing complaints from people with disabilities than any other protected class,” HOME’s Director of Fair Housing, Helen Hardiman, said. “Our work in this case demonstrates HOME’s commitment  to educating housing providers and consumers on their rights and responsibilities under fair housing laws.”

Any persons who believe that they were treated differently because of their mobility devices or other disability-related needs at The Towers Retirement Community or any other Retirement Unlimited property, or any individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination anywhere in Virginia should contact HOME at 804-354-0641.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on seven “protected classes”: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status (families with children under age 18). Fair housing laws in Virginia offer an additional protection for individuals aged 55 years or older.

A dream for all of us

Martin Luther King Jr. was born this week in 1929. He shared with all of us a dream of a world in which the color of your skin did not bar you from any of life’s opportunities. HOME carries on his legacy by tirelessly enforcing the Fair Housing Act and remaining dedicated to ensuring that everyone, no matter who they are, has full access to the opportunity to live in safe, decent and affordable housing.

We know that discrimination is often based on more than just skin color. We file fair housing complaints based on skin color, race, religion, disability, age, sex, national origin, and familial status. This protects a lot of people, but there are still groups who are not protected. In Virginia, it is legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and source of income. Luckily, three bills filed in this session of the General Assembly propose adding sexual orientation as a protected class under the Virginia Fair Housing Act. Another bill seeks to protect families from discrimination based on their source of income. And finally, there is a bill which will enable all married couples- regardless of their gender or where they were married- to be legal joint property owners. Where you live makes all the difference, we want all Virginians to feel safe and secure in their housing choices.

If you agree with us, contact your legislator and tell them you support the rights of all Virginians to safe, affordable and decent housing. The protection of these rights should not be contingent upon sexual orientation, gender identity, or source of income.

Ready, Set, Advocate!

Today is Housing Advocacy Day. Supporters of HOME’s mission are talking to members of the General Assembly about the bills we support and the changes we hope to see in this session. There have been almost 2,000 bills filed this session between the House and the Senate; these are the ones HOME is keeping an eye on. Click the bill number for the full text of the proposed bill. The bills in bold are the ones we strongly support.

House Bills:

HB 208- Amends the existing vested rights statute by clarifying that structures that meet certain conditions shall be considered nonconforming. Additional changes make clear that a requirement under existing law to bring certain structures into compliance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code shall not affect the nonconforming status of those structures.

HB 222- Requires the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to notify the local governing body of a locality in which a provider has proposed or applied for an initial license or to modify a license of the proposal or application, and to receive and consider comments submitted by the local governing body when making decisions regarding issuance of a license or modification.

HB 224- Changes the criteria for transferring certain tax-delinquent real property to localities through a special commissioner in the Cities of Norfolk, Richmond, Hopewell, Newport News, Petersburg, and Hampton by reducing the percentage of taxes and liens from exceeding 35 percent to 20 percent and of taxes alone from 15 percent to 10 percent, respectively, and including parcels with an assessed value of $100,000 or less.

HB 259- Proscribes an individual from alleging a real estate licensee has engaged in untrue, deceptive, or misleading advertising unless such licensee has been convicted doing so.

HB 273- Changes the applicability of the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act from the ownership of no more than 10 single-family residences to ownership of no more than two single-family residences and makes the application uniform across the state. The bill also authorizes a landlord to expedite the disposition of security deposits under certain circumstances. The bill repeals the requirement for a landlord to accrue interest on security deposits, effective January 1, 2015.

HB 295- Increases the total amount of tax credits granted for the Livable Home Tax Credit program in any fiscal year from $1 million to $2 million and increases the total amount of tax credits made available through the program allocated for purchase or construction of new residences from $500,000 to $1 million and the total amount allocated for retrofitting or renovation of existing residences from $500,000 to $1 million. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 296- Requires localities to take steps to align transportation infrastructure and facilities with affordable, accessible housing and community services when developing the transportation component of the comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 331- Establishes first-time home buyer savings accounts that are to be used for saving funds for the purchase of homes by first-time home buyers. Moneys in the account are required to be used solely for the down payment and closing costs for the purchase of a home by a first-time home buyer. The bill establishes an individual income tax subtraction for income earned on contributions to the account. However, if moneys are withdrawn from the account for purposes other than to pay eligible costs, any income previously subtracted would be subject to recapture by the Commonwealth and a five percent penalty would be imposed. There would be no recapture and addition to taxable income if the amounts withdrawn were (i) withdrawn because of the death or disability of the account beneficiary, (ii) a disbursement of assets pursuant to a filing for protection under federal bankruptcy laws, or (iii) transferred to another first-time home buyer savings account
The bill limits the amount of principal that can be contributed to any account to $50,000 and limits the total amount that can be retained in an account at any time to $150,000. Persons would be allowed to contribute only cash or marketable securities to a first-time home buyer savings account.

HB 418- Adds discrimination based on sexual orientation as an unlawful discriminatory housing practice. The bill defines “sexual orientation” as a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, or gender identity or expression. “Sexual orientation” does not include sexually deviant disorders (paraphilias) as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

HB 419- Broadens the class of individuals who may hold property as tenants by the entireties to include any married couple whose marriage is recognized under the laws of any state in the United States.

HB 524- Requires the Board of Housing and Community Development to revise the Uniform Statewide Building Code to require that at least 10 percent of all dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any newly constructed multifamily residential building shall be affordable, accessible units designed and constructed in a manner that satisfies the criteria for Type A units, in accordance with ANSI A117.1. Currently, at least two percent of dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any multifamily residential building must be Type A units. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 527- Provides that for purposes of zoning, a residential facility in which no more than eight individuals with mental illness, intellectual disability, or developmental disabilities reside, with one or more resident or nonresident staff persons, shall be considered residential occupancy by a single family. Currently, such facilities are required to have one or more resident counselors or other staff persons to qualify for this zoning designation.

HB 600- Extends to tenants with one or more minor children who live within 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines the right to continue to occupy their apartment or unit or at least one of equal size and overall quality under a lease agreement, even though their apartment or unit will be converted to a condominium. Under current law, the locality must enact an ordinance to afford these rights, and currently such rights are available to elderly or disabled tenants.

HB 792- Requires localities in Planning District 8 (Northern Virginia) to include provisions in their zoning ordinances that limit the number of residential units with 500 square feet or less of living space to no more than 100 residential units per 100,000 population in the locality. Zoning changes required to accommodate such units must be at a location in which the zoning prior to January 1, 2014, was at least 12 residential dwellings per acre.

HB 816- Adds lawful source of income to the list on the basis of which it is unlawful to discriminate in fair housing practices. The bill defines lawful source of income as any income used by a person to pay for the purchase or lease of a dwelling, including (i) public assistance, (ii) any manner of gross income, (iii) federal supplemental security income benefits, (iv) child support, and (v) any federal, state, or local housing assistance, regardless of whether the funds are paid directly to the person or to a landlord or other third party for the benefit of the person. The bill also authorizes the governing body of any county, city, or town to enact an ordinance in accordance with the provisions of the Virginia Fair Housing Law, provided such ordinance includes protections against discrimination that are at least as protective as those provided by the law.

Senate Bills

SB 58- Requires localities to take steps to align transportation infrastructure and facilities with affordable, accessible housing and community services when developing the transportation component of the comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

SB 63- Requires the Board of Housing and Community Development to revise the Uniform Statewide Building Code to require that at least 10 percent of all dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any newly constructed multifamily residential building shall be affordable, accessible units designed and constructed in a manner that satisfies the criteria for Type A units, in accordance with ANSI A117.1. Currently, at least two percent of dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any multifamily residential building must be Type A units. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission

SB 313- Provides that if any locality elects to enforce Part III of the Building Code, it shall also enforce the unsafe structures provisions for tenant complaints and enforce the elevator, escalator, or related conveyance inspections. The bill also provides that where a county provides enforcement of Parts I and II of the Building Code in a town, and elects to inspect and enforce Part III of the Building Code, the county is also required to inspect and enforce Part III of the Building Code in any such town situated in the county that has also adopted Part III, upon entering into a nonmonetary agreement with the town for such enforcement, unless the town elects to inspect and enforce Part III. The bill contains technical amendments.

SB 340- Allows a locality to require any party wishing to establish a certain type of residential facility for the aged, infirm, disabled, or those with mental illness to provide public notice and participate in a public hearing. The bill requires the operator of such a facility to install smoke detectors regardless of when the building was constructed and directs the Board of Housing and Community Development to adopt regulations establishing standards for requiring smoke detectors.

Keep checking in with us as we post updates on the progress of these bills. Remember, the decisions made in the General Assembly affect all of us as Virginians. Write your legislators and urge them to support the bills you care about.

For more information on the General Assembly.

Find your legislator and send them a message!

Lobbyist in a Box service allows you to track up to five bills at a time, for free!

Banks maintaining properties differently in white vs black neighborhoods

An interview with Shanti Abedin from the National Fair Housing Alliance examining how Banks are maintaining the homes they own in different neighborhoods.

Modern Segregation: Residential Preferences? Or Something Else?

Many neighborhoods in America today still lack racial and ethnic diversity. In some of these communities, the differences between neighborhoods is so stark, it seems like they are segregated. In addition to the racial/ethnic differences, there often exist dramatic economic disparities. Some neighborhoods feel like completely different parts of the world.

Given how much progress America has made on race issues, some people assume that this type of segregation must exist because people choose to live separately, that segregation is a preference. But research tells a different story.

 racial preference chart

The reality is that even though African-Americans prefer highly integrated neighborhoods, they still end up living in segregated communities, regardless of income[1] or even after moving.[2] In one survey conducted in Long Island, New York, almost 70% of African-Americans surveyed stated they preferred an integrated community.[3] Studies indicate that if given the economic opportunities, African-American families formerly in public housing will move into more integrated areas and live there for years.[4]

Part of the reason behind US segregation comes from the fact that African-Americans still experience pervasive housing discrimination, including but not limited to predatory lending, racial steering, and discrimination based on credit[5]. Racial steering is when a lender or real estate agent specifically shows families housing in different neighborhoods based on their race or ethnicity.

Unfortunately, these patterns of segregation are affecting other ethnic minorities. Latino Americans are, by and large, also concentrated in minority neighborhoods. The most troubling pattern is that often these neighborhoods are suffering from disinvestment and lack important tools for economic growth such as quality public schools. Some may claim African-Americans and Latinos have a tendency to clump near family members, but studies show education and services are both higher priorities. There are opportunities for improving public education by reducing segregated housing patterns. Segregated communities are often not satisfied with the quality of their schools.[6] Other studies indicate how segregated public schools and universities reinforce the idea of racially segregated neighborhoods.[7]

What continues these patterns of residential segregation despite the desire of residents to live in diverse communities? Lack of knowledge about inclusive and diverse neighborhoods, in addition to aversion to integrated areas seems to fuel this residential segregation. There is evidence to suggest that the neighborhood preferences of Caucasian Americans play an important role in their neighborhoods’ racial composition.[8] There is also evidence to show that communities experience racial blind spots. African and Latino Americans are more likely to know about highly segregated and integrated communities but not as much about majority white neighborhoods; Caucasian Americans are not likely to know about integrated communities, even when integrated communities are predominantly white.[9]

As advocates for inclusive and economically vibrant communities, we need to close the ignorance gap regarding mixed income communities. Part of this means addressing misconceptions about affordable housing. Affordable housing can be a scary term, but it simply means having a wide range of housing options for all of the regions residents and work force. Improving the affordability of a community does not dramatically lower the property values of surrounding neighborhoods.

As a nation, we have come a long way in combating discrimination. Unfortunately, the journey is not over, housing discrimination still exists even though market demand tells us that people want to live in inclusive and diverse neighborhoods. A commitment to community integration requires us to address the persistent prejudice, ignorance and mistrust people hold about different racial and ethnic groups. Making this commitment is the first step towards creating the vibrant neighborhoods where we want to live.


[1] Maria Krysan & Reynolds Farley, The Residential Preferences of Blacks: Do They Explain

Persistent Segregation?, 80 SOC. FORCES, 937-80 (2002)

[2] Stefanie DeLuca & Peter Rosenblatt, Walking Away from “The Wire”: Residential Mobility and Opportunity in Baltimore (Johns Hopkins University, Working Paper, 2010).

[3] Housing and Neighborhood Preferences of African Americans on Long Island 2012 Survey Research Report. http://www.eraseracismny.org

[4] Stefanie DeLuca & Peter Rosenblatt, Walking Away from “The Wire”: Residential Mobility and Opportunity in Baltimore (Johns Hopkins University, Working Paper, 2010).

[5] Margery Turner & Stephen Ross, How Racial Discrimination Affects the Search for Housing, in THE GEOGRAPHY OF OPPORTUNITY at 81-100 (Xavier de Souza Briggs ed., 2005)

[6] Housing and Neighborhood Preferences of African Americans on Long Island 2012 Survey Research Report. http://www.eraseracismny.org

[7] Pat Rubio Goldsmith, Learning Apart, Living Apart: How the Racial and Ethnic Segregation of 8 Schools and Colleges Perpetuates Residential Segregation, 112 Tchrs. C. Rec. 1605-1606 (2010).

[8] Keith Ihlanfeldt & Benjamin Scafidi, Whites’ Neighborhood Racial Preferences and Neighborhood Racial Composition in the United States: Evidence from the Multi-City Study of Inequality, 19 HOUSING STUDIES 325, 325-359 (2004).

[9] Maria Krysan, Confronting Racial “Blind Spots” POVERTY &RACE (2008), http://www.prrac.org/full_text.php?text_id=1193&item_id=11275&newsletter_id=101&header=Housing&kc=1.

New Study: Housing discrimination subtle, but present

As any homebuyer or renter knows, purchasing a new place to live is a multi-step process. But a lesser known truth about this common practice was recently released in a study from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD study findings confirm that you, as a consumer, can fall victim to racial housing discrimination at any point during the browsing and purchasing or renting of a new home, from the first phone call to the sale itself. HUD’s release from more than 8,000 fair housing tests conducted across the country indicates that although blatant discrimination in the advertising and sale of homes may be on the decline, more subtle forms persist with equal consequences to the housing consumer.

Searching For a Home

Before the first showing, homebuyers peruse the availability of homes in their preferred area. Throughout the country, testers found that when contacting agents about advertised residences for sale, black homebuyers learned about roughly 17.0 percent fewer housing availabilities than their white counterparts, and were “shown 17.7 percent fewer homes.”

The First Call: Scheduling an Appointment & Pre-Qualification Process

The 2013 HUD study showed significant disparities in the initial contact between buyer and REALTOR along racial lines, even when it came to sensing racial background over the phone.  According to HUD, black “renters whose race is readily identifiable based on name and speech are significantly more likely to be denied an appointment than minorities perceived to be white.” During an in-person visit, renters who are identifiably black “are shown fewer units than minorities who are perceived to be white”. Similarly, homebuyers who are identifiably black…“face higher discrimination during the in-person visit than those who are perceived to be white.”

Significant numbers of testers in certain metro areas (including the Richmond, VA region) were repeatedly denied appointments by housing providers because they had not yet been prequalified. The report cites a case where the black tester called and spoke with an agent who insisted that she must be prequalified in order to see homes. He refused to meet with her until she had talked to a lender. The white tester was not asked about prequalification over the phone, and made an appointment to meet with the agent.

For example, field testers in certain metropolitan areas were so consistently denied appointments based on lack of pre-qualifications that HUD had to grant testing organizations permission to use qualifying dollar amounts over the phone just to schedule a first meeting. These nine localities included

Albuquerque, N.M.;  Atlanta, Ga.; Chicago, Ill.; Dallas, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; Greensboro, N.C.; Miami, Fla.; Washington, D.C. and our own Richmond, Va.

The First Meeting & Showing the House

A significant racial divide was also found when testers first met with real estate agents and were shown houses. In terms of variety of neighborhoods shown, national trends indicate that more homes and apartments are communicated and shown to white homeseekers than to racial minorities. HUD reports that

“agents spend more time with white homeseekers than with equally qualified blacks” and that “in about two-thirds of in-person visits, one tester is shown more units than his or her partner, with whites significantly more likely to be favored than blacks.”

Even an agent’s description of a neighborhood can be tinged with discriminatory language. The report states that:

“whites hear more positive comments about white neighborhoods and more negative comments about minority neighborhoods than do blacks, potentially steering them away from mixed or minority neighborhoods.”

Implications

Minority home buyers sometimes experience other forms of discriminatory treatment as well, relating to housing costs and financing, housing quality, and the helpfulness of the sales agent. These differences are less consistent and smaller in magnitude than the differences in numbers of homes available and shown.

But one particularly potent finding from the 2013 study may be the most unsettling – these disturbing trends only amplify when particular cities and towns (localities) are put under the magnifying glass, particularly urban areas.

The unfortunate truth is that even after sale, discrimination can occur during a buyer or renter’s time at their residence, and on bases of a variety of different “protected classes” other than race. The study itself cites the limitation that:

“results reported here probably understate the total level of discrimination that occurs in the marketplace… (and) do not capture all the forms of discriminatory treatment that minority home seekers may experience.”

HUD even indicates that the extent of housing discrimination faced by “minority home seekers with lower incomes, less wealth, weaker English language fluency, or blemished credit” may extend to levels beyond those actually reported this year.

We need to do more. To stop these disparities, it is paramount that buyers, renters and housing industry professionals are educated in fair housing practices.

Enforcement is still a necessity, as HUD states:

“Prejudice has by no means disappeared….minorities still face significant barriers to [their] housing search, even when they are well-qualified as renters or home buyers.”

A strong method to enforce fair housing laws is to have local fair housing organizations increase their proactive testing  of the housing industry (the sales market more so than rentals). Another proactive step is to research what specific localities and neighborhoods are experiencing these discriminatory housing practices, in order to pinpoint areas where investigations could really make a difference. Reinvesting in neighborhoods to create equal access to services and encourage diversity is another long-term method to reduce these detrimental disparities facing minority home seekers, renters and owners. It is for these reasons that fair housing organizations like HOME fight for equal opportunity to housing for all, through fair housing policy change, education and enforcement.

A Fair Chance in Our Economy

A Fair Chance in the Economy is Humanly Possible

George Mason University Economics Professor Don Boudreaux wrote recently: “I do not in the least care about income (or wealth) inequality.”

Don Boudreaux

Don Boudreaux

This seems a pretty bold and heartless statement, but he clarifies:

“I care – very deeply – whether the process for pursuing one’s life’s goals is fair or not.  I want everyone to have as fair a chance in the economy as is humanly possible.  I despise special privileges that stack the deck either in favor of Jones or against Smith.  (We can have a debate about what the details of “fair process” and “special privileges” look like, but this post is not the place for such a debate.)  But I do not care about differences in monetary income or wealth as such.”

Every American is entitled to a fair chance to succeed in our economy. But here’s an incontrovertible fact: human bias and prejudice actively prevent some Americans at a fair shot.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about housing discrimination.

For example:

Zenobia of Petersburg Virginia wanted to move her family to a better neighborhood so her four children could attend better schools and build a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, she was turned down for housing repeatedly because she uses public assistance to pay for rent. This type of housing discrimination reduced the fair shot Zenobia is entitled to.

A recent study found that many low income Americans are trapped in areas with fewer opportunities:

One of the most disappointing results of the study, Tegler says, is that the majority of recipients of the Housing Choice Voucher Program still live near low-performing schools, even though the program is designed to provide greater housing options.

It is humanly possible to give these folks a fair chance in our economy. We have to eliminate discrimination against people using public assistance for housing. When people are able to choose great neighborhoods themselves, they will have the fair shot they are entitled to in our economy. We must also make sure that there is affordable housing in great neighborhoods.

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