Friday, February 23, 2024

20 Boston-area landlords & property companies sued for discrimination

Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), a nonprofit housing watchdog group, has sued 20 Boston-area property companies and real estate brokers for allegedly discriminating against low-income tenants. The lawsuit, brought by the Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and Handley Farah & Anderson, alleges landlords and brokers refused to rent to tenants with government-subsidized housing vouchers - which is illegal in Massachusetts. This is the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

LCR said in a statement that HRI used "testers" to act as prospective tenants requesting information about apartments. The companies and brokers at first "responded positively" to the inquiries, but then allegedly refused to accept housing vouchers, often called "Section 8" vouchers. Discrimination against voucher-holders continues patterns of de facto racial segregation among Boston neighborhoods, as residents of color thus must use housing subsidies solely in low-income areas with fewer public resources than predominant white neighborhoods.

The suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, includes photos of alleged conversations in which landlords and property brokers appear to tell prospective tenants they do not accept the vouchers. "One takeaway from our year-long investigation is that housing discrimination is alive and well in Boston," said Aaron Carr, HRI founder and executive director. He said the defendants named in the suit represent only "the tip of a very discriminatory iceberg," claiming many other landlords and brokers engage in similar practices.

The trade association MassLandlords commented that the state should provide better training to landlords on navigating housing laws and help simplify the process of renting to those with housing vouchers. None of the defendants appear to be members of the association.

HRI has brought similar lawsuits against real estate companies in New York City. "This is a national issue," Carr said, "but in Boston it seems particularly pronounced, which makes sense because Boston has a very tight market and in tight markets a lot of times you see shenanigans like this one."

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Read the February 21, 2024 WBUR article.

Click here to download the complaint.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Maryland Commission on Civil Rights and the SCREA Are Working Together to Reduce Discriminatory Housing Appraisals

The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR) and the Maryland State Commission of Real Estate Appraisers, Appraisal Management Companies, and Home Inspectors (SCREA) will work together regarding fair housing issues and complaints regarding real estate appraisals. The main goal of this interagency cooperation agreement is to better enforce Title 20, Subtitle 7 of the Annotated Code of Maryland concerning appraisal bias.

This is being done because recent research suggests that there are racial and ethnic differences in home valuations. According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s 2021 appraisal statistics, 23.3% of homes in high minority tracts (80.1-100%) were undervalued. This is compared to 13.4% of homes in White tracts (0-50%) and 19.2% in minority tracts (50.1-80%). Bias plays a major factor in this statistic. While home appraisals are supposed to be independent, fair and objective estimates of market value so lenders can accurately evaluate risk, the results depend upon the appraiser’s expertise and familiarity with the neighborhood. The appraisal industry remains one of the country’s least diverse professions; 98% of appraisers are White, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“This is one of the major economic barriers that prohibit people of color from gaining generational wealth,” said Cleveland L Horton, II, Deputy Executive Director of MCCR. “By MCCR and SCREA formally working together, we can improve the appraisal process and create an equitable system that can be used to lift all Marylanders up the proverbial economic ladder.”

A formal memorandum of understanding solidifying this interagency cooperation between MCCR and SCREA will be signed on February 26th at 10 a.m. in MCCR’s headquarters (6 St Paul Street, Suite 900, Baltimore MD 21202.)

The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR) represents the interest of the State to ensure equal opportunity for all Marylanders through enforcement of Title 20 of the State Government Article and Title 19 of the State Finance & Procurement Article, Annotated Code of Maryland.  MCCR investigates complaints of discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, health services, commercial leasing, and state contracts that are filed by members of protected classes under federal and state law.

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Read the February 15, 2024 MCCR press release.

Monday, February 12, 2024

MCCR & Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women present "Artistic Expression of Black Heritage: Celebrating Creativity" on February 21st

 

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MCCR, in partnership with Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, present "Artistic Expression of Black Heritage: Celebrating Creativity" at the Enoch Pratt Central Library (400 Cathedral St, Baltimore, MD 21201) on February 21, 2024 from 5pm - 6:30pm. 

Click HERE to register.  

 

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Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Justice Department and North Carolina Reach $13.5 Million Agreement with First National Bank of Pennsylvania to Regarding Redlining

The First National Bank of Pennsylvania (FNB) has agreed to pay $13.5 million to resolve allegations by the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the State of North Carolina that it engaged in a pattern or practice of lending discrimination by redlining predominantly Black and Hispanic North Carolina neighborhoods. Redlining is an illegal practice in which lenders avoid providing credit services to individuals living in communities of color because of the race, color, or national origin of residents in those communities.

The complaint alleges that from 2017-2021, FNB failed to provide mortgage lending services to predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, and discouraged people seeking credit there from obtaining home loans. Instead, FNB’s home mortgage lending focused disproportionately on white areas of the cities. Other lenders had applications in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods at 2.5 times the rate of FNB in Charlotte and 4 times the rate in Winston-Salem. FNB’s branches in both cities were also mostly located in predominantly white neighborhoods. The bank closed its only branch in a predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood in Winston-Salem in 2021.

The complaint further alleges that FNB had mortgage loan officers working out of predominantly white areas to generate loan applications and that the bank did not track how they developed loan referrals or how they distributed the bank’s mortgage marketing materials.

Under the two proposed consent orders, FNB will invest $13.5 million to increase credit opportunities for communities of color in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, including: (1) $11.75 million in a loan subsidy fund to increase access to home mortgage, home improvement, and home refinance loans for residents of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in FNB’s service areas; (2) $1 million on community partnerships to provide services related to credit, consumer financial education, homeownership, and foreclosure prevention for residents of predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in those areas; (3) $750,000 for advertising, outreach, consumer financial education, and credit counseling for predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the areas; (4) open three new branches in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the two cities, with at least one mortgage banker assigned to each branch; (5) hire a director of community lending to oversee the development of lending in communities of color; (6) retain independent consultants to enhance its fair lending program and better meet the communities’ needs for mortgage credit; (7) conduct a community credit needs assessment; (8) evaluate its fair lending compliance management systems; and (9) conduct staff trainings.

With assets of over $45 billion, FNB is headquartered in Pennsylvania and operates approximately 350 branches throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. It is among the 100 largest US banks.

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Photo by Andrew Stapleton on Unsplash

Friday, February 2, 2024

Despite Milwaukee Anti-Discrimination Law, Landlords Continue to Explicitly Reject Section 8 Applicants

 

Milwaukee County in 2018 banned landlords from categorically rejecting recipients of housing assistance. More than five years later the county’s Office of Corporation Counsel, which is supposed to enforce the protections, says it has yet to receive a verified complaint of such discrimination. That’s not for a lack of discrimination, a Wisconsin Watch investigation found. Some landlords continue to explicitly reject Section 8 applicants — even saying so in public listings. Four Section 8 renters told Wisconsin Watch no one informed them about the protections or how to file a complaint.

Moreover, Milwaukee County officials now question whether they can enforce the provision. Income-based discrimination is the law in Wisconsin and 21 other states to various degrees. However, income-based protections in Wisconsin’s Open Housing Act allow landlords to refuse vouchers, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1995. Milwaukee County Chief Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun told Wisconsin Watch her office questions whether the county has legal authority to enforce the ordinance.

Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee operate separate housing agencies that distribute Section 8 vouchers, with the majority coming through the city. Only the county’s authority mentions the 2018 protections in information packets meant to help renters navigate the program. Neither packet says how to report income-based discrimination to the county.

Section 8, the federal government’s largest low-income housing subsidy program, serves 2.3 million households nationwide, including more than 16,500 people in Milwaukee County in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

It aims to broaden housing access for participants, but renters and housing advocates say landlords outside of historically disinvested neighborhoods rarely rent to people with vouchers — one of many factors limiting opportunities in Milwaukee and nationwide, particularly people of color.

Throughout the Milwaukee metro area, 85% of families of color holding vouchers lived in minority-concentrated neighborhoods — areas where just 38% of rental units were considered voucher-affordable, the analysis found.

Read the January 31, 2024 Wisconsin Watch article.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Harvard Study Finds Rental Affordability Lowest Ever

The just-released Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies report America's Rental Housing 2024 has found that in 2022 an all-time high of 22.4 million renters spent over 30% of their income on rent and utilities. Among cost-burdened households, 12.1 million had housing costs that were more than half of their income, an all-time high for such severe burdens. The dwindling supply of low-rent units is only worsening cost burdens, according to the report. As the study explains: "Climbing rents in recent years propelled US cost burdens to staggering new heights: in 2022, half of all US renters were cost burdened. And while rental markets are finally cooling, evictions have risen, the country is seeing the highest homelessness counts on record, and the need for rental assistance is greater than ever."

The negative personal impacts of such tight budgets force financially vulnerable renters to make awful choices. Harvard Joint Center analysis of the 2022 Consumer Expenditure Survey found that severely cost-burdened renter households in the lowest expenditure quartile spent 39% less on food and 42% less on healthcare than unburdened households. Others may end up living in overcrowded or  structurally inadequate conditions, threatening their health and well-being.

Local Data

For the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson area, 86% of renters are considered moderately burdened by the report, and 103% severely burdened. This geographic combination is the sole local breakdown available in the study.

Concerning the renters' race, about 175,000 renters in the area are Black, 134,000 White, 25,000 Hispanic/Latino, 18,000 Asian, and 18,000 multi-racial or another race. Some 52.1% of Blacks are renters, 21.1% of Whites, 45.8% of Hispanics/Latinos, 31.2% of Asians, and 50.1% multi-racial or another race.

Read the Harvard Joint Center study

Go to the Harvard report's summary page.



Monday, January 29, 2024

HUD Settles Tennessee Apartment Violations of Americans with Disabilities Act and the Violence Against Women Act

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with HUD-funded Tennessee housing providers Alco Greenbriar Partners LP, Alco Properties, Inc., and Alco Management, Inc., requiring the respondents to pay $50,000 in compensation to the aggrieved parties. The VCA resolves findings of noncompliance related to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as findings of noncompliance related to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Read the Agreement, Letter of Findings and the VAWA Memo.

The case began with a limited compliance review initiated by HUD in 2022 regarding Greenbriar Apartments, a 208-unit development in Tennessee. HUD found that the respondents effectively denied multiple reasonable accommodation/modification requests, as well as instances of VAWA noncompliance regarding two households that experienced incidents of sexual assault and/or domestic violence and were not provided the requested VAWA transfers or take any additional action to process the requests.

HUD also found that the respondents were unwilling to transfer residents from one Alco property to another when a vacancy that met the need of the requesting tenant was unavailable at Greenbriar, that 5% of the units were not accessible to individuals with mobility impairments, and 2% more of the units were not accessible to individuals with hearing or vision impairments.

Under the 2023 Agreement resolving the Section 504 findings and VAWA issues, the respondents agreed to: pay $50,000 in monetary compensation for the five aggrieved parties; amend its reasonable accommodation transfer log; revise the transfer policy; revise its VAWA policies; construct or convert 10 UFAS-accessible units, with an additional 4 units for the hearing and visually impaired and accessible common areas; designate a VAWA Coordinator; respond to VAWA-related grievances and transfer requests within 10 days; and attend VAWA training.

Anyone who feels they have experienced discrimination in housing may file a complaint by contacting HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 877-8339 (Federal Relay Service). Housing providers' responsibilities to provide reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications to individuals with disabilities are available here.

Read the January 25, 2023 HUD release.