Fair Housing Highlights

Explore fair housing highlights from across the nation. These highlights feature FHIP/FHAP organization accomplishments, various HUD FHEO announcements, case studies and more.

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Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh and Client File HUD Complaint Alleging Discriminatory Home Appraisal Based on Race in East Liberty, Pennsylvania

For over 10 years, Shirley Salmon-Davis lived in her home in Pittsburgh, PA about a block inside the border between the two Pittsburgh neighborhoods of East Liberty and Highland Park. The home was adorned with pictures of her family, her art collection of Black individuals, and African tribal masks.

In 2021, Ms. Salmon-Davis decided to sell her home and ahead of that, opted to get the house appraised. She connected with a friend (Harrison Kinnane Smith) who was putting together an art exhibit, Sed Valorem, exploring local property valuations. They scheduled two appraisals to be done of her house. For the first, the house remained as it was with Ms. Salmon-Davis’s belongings displayed and was valued at $400,000 by Ditio, Inc. The second occurred three days later with the pictures, art, and African tribal masks removed and replaced with family pictures of her friend, Jenna Date, a White woman. This appraisal came back at $436,000—an increase of $36,000.

Both appraisals used a “Sales Comparison Approach” with two of the same comparable properties. However, the appraisal from Ditio Inc. “only used comparable properties in East Liberty” while the second appraisal “used comparable properties in both East Liberty and Highland Park.” It is critical to note that East Liberty’s Black population alone is nearly three times greater than Highland Park’s as per the 2020 U.S. Census.

Ms. Salmon-Davis remarked, “The process of packing my belongings and selling my home was stressful. However, the act of removing my family’s identity as a Black family from our home and asking a White friend for the favor of representing that her family owned the home, effectively erasing myself from my home of over 10 years, then to see its value increase by thousands of dollars was an unexpectedly dehumanizing experience.”

Ultimately, Ms. Salmon-Davis sold her home later in 2021 for $447,000.

In February 2022, Executive Director Megan Confer-Hammond of the Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh (FHP) read an article about Mr. Smith’s art exhibit that included Ms. Salmon-Davis’s experience. She was able to connect with Mr. Smith and Ms. Salmon-Davis. As a result of those conversations and FHP’s investigation, FHP filed a complaint with HUD in May 2022 with Ms. Salmon-Davis and FHP listed as complainants. The complaint alleges that Ditio Inc.’s appraisal was lower because the home was “being inhabited by a readily observable Black family in a neighborhood with a substantial Black population.” Confer-Hammond noted, “As a society, we often assume that the calculation of value for an inanimate object is without bias. I ask Pittsburghers to consider that the same house was appraised three days apart and its value changed by $36,000. What changed in that time?” The answer would seem to be nothing.

Ms. Salmon-Davis’s experience with appraisal bias is common enough that President Biden announced in June 2021 the creation of an Interagency Task Force on Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity (PAVE). In March 2022, PAVE’s leadership released an action plan outlining several steps the federal government will take to address this issue. In addition to the PAVE website, NFHTA’s National Fair Housing Forums Collateral Damage: The Consequences of Racial Bias in the Residential Appraisal Process and Strategies for Investigating Discriminatory Residential Appraisals are available resources on this emerging topic.

View the FHP Press Release.

September 2022

New Orleans Housing Provider Settles Criminal Background Discrimination Complaint

In 2017, the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LaFHAC) filed a fair housing complaint with HUD alleging that Sailboat Bay Apartments, its management company, and the property manager were discriminating based on race by utilizing a blanket ban on anyone with a criminal record. The complaint was based on systemic testing that arose from findings in their 2015 report, Locked Out: Criminal Background Checks as a Tool for Discrimination.

After the report was released, LaFHAC continued to examine the ways a person’s criminal history impacts their access to housing. To do this, LaFHAC conducted multiple tests between June 2015 and March 2017. For the tests, “Black and White testers posed as renters with arrests, misdemeanor convictions, or felony convictions on their record and inquired about properties’ criminal background screening policies.” The findings showed that the Sailboat Bay property managers discouraged individuals from applying after they disclosed having been arrested or convicted of crimes. Managers made comments like “anything on a criminal background check would automatically disqualify [you]” and “if you’ve been arrested, you’re going to be denied.” Statements like these are typically indicative of a blanket ban policy.

Both parties continued conciliation efforts per HUD's investigation process. After several years of discussions, LaFHAC announced in February 2022 that they reached a settlement with the respondents. Sailboat Bay will pay $35,000 in financial damages and implement a new applicant screening policy that HUD and LaFHAC drafted. The policy will “ensure that arrests, charges, expunged or vacated convictions, misdemeanor convictions, and any felony convictions that took place more than five years ago will not be considered.

If your office receives a complaint like LaFHAC’s related to criminal records, HUD’s April 2016 Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions is a great resource. It explains that “blanket bans barring people with arrests or convictions have a predictable and significantly harmful impact on African Americans and Latinos, who—due to longstanding inequities in the legal system—are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and incarcerated compared to Whites.” It also lays out how the discriminatory effects and disparate treatment methods of proof apply to these discriminatory practices. For the statistical analysis in LaFHAC’s complaint, they “provided local, Louisiana, and national statistics documenting the glaring disparities in how the criminal legal system treats Black people in particular, compared to White people.” In doing so, they demonstrated the disparate impact that such policies have on people of color.

Additional information is available from NFHTA's July forum, Strategies for Addressing Discrimination: Housing Providers' Use of Criminal Records. The recording of the forum and the related resources provide valuable information and guidance for investigating cases of this nature.

September 2022

Relman Colfax Settles Accessibility Case Against Regional Developers of Senior Housing 

"There is strength in numbers," and the August 2022 settlement of CNY Fair Housing, Inc., et. al. v. Clover Construction Management, Inc. et. al. (Clover II) with a value of at least $7.12 million is a notable demonstration of these words in action. In addition to the compensation for the 12 fair housing groups across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri covering 50 multi-family housing properties, at least $3 million will be used for increasing the accessibility of the properties. In addition, $3.25 million will be reserved to cover reasonable modification requests that current and future tenants make.

It is especially noteworthy that this filing is separate from CNY Fair Housing, Inc., et. al. v. Clover Group, Inc. et. al. (Clover I) which was filed in March 2021. Clover I, which is still pending in federal court, involves eight plaintiffs (three tenants and five FHIPs) spanning three states with alleged disability discrimination violations occurring at 40 properties.

Clover I and Clover II illustrate the incredible value of collaboration and employing various investigative methodologies such as testing, direct outreach, and analysis of building plans amongst other things.

In the fall of 2018, a tenant at a Clover “senior apartment community” housing property in Central New York reached out to CNY Fair Housing. The woman explained that she had been assisting some of her neighbors with requesting assigned parking spaces near their units. She stated that, despite everyone needing it for accessibility-/mobility-related reasons, management said they would first have to pay $350 for that accommodation. A clear violation of the Fair Housing Act. From there, the staff at CNY Fair Housing connected with the Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh, Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Buffalo, Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Greater Cincinnati, and the Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research of Cleveland as they also had Clover properties in their service areas.

The FHIPs then conducted rental tests and visited the various properties in their areas. It was through the collaborative testing process that they were able to gather evidence of disability discrimination (including the parking accommodation) while also uncovering other violations. Questionable design and construction trends emerged during site visits which then led to in-depth evaluations of property records and plans. In all, the Clover II case alleges that the original organizations along with two more FHIPs - The Fair Housing Center of Toledo and Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana (FHCCI) - uncovered violations that were “widespread and flagrant of the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements.”

The Clover II allegations included insufficient and inaccessible parking spaces, inaccessible mailboxes, and inaccessible routes within individual apartments and the properties’ common areas despite the Clover Group advertising these properties as “fully handicapped accessible” and “high-quality senior living.” The Clover cases are being litigated by Sara Pratt, Reed Colfax, and Soohyun Choi at Relman Colfax PLLC along with CNY Fair Housing’s staff attorneys Conor Kirchner and Casey Weissman-Vermuelen.

September 2022

Fair Housing Justice Center Reached Settlement in Residential Rehab Facility Disability Lawsuit

Substance abuse disorders impact people of all backgrounds and abilities. In April 2021, New York City’s Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) filed two federal lawsuits against operators of residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation residences located in New York. The suits alleged that the defendants had discriminated on the basis of disability by refusing to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter services and denying facility admission to Deaf persons.

These cases were part of a large-scale testing investigation undertaken by FHJC. The tests were designed to make sure that residential recovery facilities were complying with their fair housing obligations. Their findings were substantive, egregious, and blatant. To conduct the tests, FHJC had testers pose as family members of Deaf individuals needing residential recovery program services. The test findings supported, and subsequent lawsuits alleged, that Odyssey House, Inc.; Phoenix Houses of New York, Inc.; Arms Acres, Inc.; and Liberty Management Group, Inc. repeatedly refused to provide ASL interpreter services in addition to denying Deaf persons admission to the programs.

On March 27, 2022, FHJC announced that they had reached a settlement with Arms Acres, Inc. and Liberty Management Group, Inc. The agreement requires the defendants to pay $107,500 in damages along with substantial injunctive relief. FHJC reached a similar settlement with Odyssey House, Inc. in November 2021 that stemmed from this same investigation.

FHJC’s Executive Director Elizabeth Gross stated, “Substance abuse is a life-or-death issue…anyone who finds the strength and courage to confront their addiction should not also have to face illegal discrimination in their attempt to find treatment.”

To further address the deficiencies that this investigation exposed, FHJC collaborated with members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, including the National Association of the Deaf, to create outreach videos and educational materials related to fair housing rights and obligations.

September 2022

Judge Orders Preliminary Injunction in Favor of Family of Children with Disabilities

With legal representation from Rock Pledl, Lisa and Michael Newman filed a federal lawsuit in August 2021 against Nazcr Trac Property Owners Association (POA), the homeowner’s association for the subdivision where the family lives, and the president of the POA. The suit alleges discrimination on the basis of disability due to the denial of reasonable accommodation requests to erect a fence in their backyard. Three of the four Newman children have been diagnosed with autism. As a result, they do not “understand dangerous situations or assess their own safety and require extra supervision to prevent them from running away”. Directly related to the reasonable accommodation request for building a fence, “two of their children have demonstrated significant risk of elopement.”

In 2019, the Newmans requested a reasonable accommodation from the POA due to the subdivision’s rule against having fences. The Newmans submitted this to the POA president, Kevin Burt, and did not receive a response. However, they did hear from a neighbor that the POA had denied their request. The parents then followed up in December 2020 and made the request again to Mr. Burt. This time they included letters from the children’s doctors that documented the disabilities and their “need for an enclosed place to play” and information about the POA’s legal obligations under the Fair Housing Act. Mr. Burt again did not directly respond to the family’s request, but the POA later sent a letter to all residents stating the POA “would not ‘go outside’ the current rules” and that “fencing could not be placed in ‘green space.’”

The Newmans contacted the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC). The staff there advised them of their rights and gave the family options before referring them to Rock Pledl. Mr. Pledl serves on MMFHC’s Panel of Cooperating Attorneys and took their case. Mr. Pledl filed for a preliminary injunction in March 2022 and the motion was granted on May 3, 2022. This means that while the litigation of this case moves forward, the Newman family can proceed with having a fence installed and provide their children the opportunity to safely play outside.

Mrs. Newman stated, “The girls want to have a garden and set up our sandbox. They are also looking forward to picnics. These are all things they have not been able to do.”

Further, with regards to the preliminary injunction, Mr. Pledl remarked that it “sends a strong message to homeowners’ associations that there will be legal consequences if they strictly enforce subdivision or condo rules without considering the needs of residents with disabilities.”

September 2022

DFEH Sues Federally Subsidized Apartment Complex for Disability Discrimination

In May 2022, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), California’s only Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP), filed a federal lawsuit against Sutter Village and various parties affiliated with the property. Sutter Village is a 74-unit federally subsidized apartment complex located in Yuba City, California.

This filing came after a thorough investigation conducted by DFEH into allegations of discrimination related to a tenant’s disability. The suit reports the experiences of a tenant who is a quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair. The tenant resides on the top floor of a 3-story building and requested as a reasonable accommodation that she be moved to a ground-floor unit. The repeated request became especially critical when the elevator frequently became inoperable. This ongoing issue essentially left the tenant confined to her apartment. Despite this urgent need and the repeated requests, “managers failed to inform her as suitable apartments became available.” Further, the tenant alleges being told that “she would need to pay for necessary accessibility features.”

Since Sutter Village receives federal funding, they are required to comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This federal law obligates the housing providers who receive HUD funding to, as the suit details, “pay for accessibility modifications unless certain conditions are met.” In this situation, those other conditions outlined in Section 504 were not met and retrofitting a new-to-her unit would, therefore, not be her responsibility.

DFEH’s Director Kevin Kish remarked, “Housing providers that fail to provide reasonable accommodations to make housing accessible to tenants with disabilities violate longstanding legal protections.”

This suit is seeking injunctive relief and monetary relief for the tenant.

September 2022

Justice Department Secures Agreement in Race Discrimination Lawsuit Involving Two Rental Properties in Georgia

In May 2020, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a federal lawsuit in Georgia’s Northern District alleging race discrimination at two properties in Cedartown, Georgia. Crimson Management LLC, Benefield Housing Partnership (dba Cedartown Commons), and Cedartown Housing Associates (dba Cedarwood Village) were the defendants in the case.

The suit alleged that the defendants had been steering Cedarwood Village applicants that were Black and elderly or had a disability to Cedartown Commons. The Cedarwood Village complex was predominantly White and superior to the Cedartown Commons complex in appearance, location, and amenities. Subsequently, Cedarwood Commons was mostly occupied by Black residents. The suit further alleged that “defendants subjected Black residents who are elderly or have a disability to less favorable rental terms, conditions, and privileges as compared to similarly situated White tenants.” The DOJ argued the defendants were perpetuating segregation by having these policies.

On May 26, 2022, the DOJ announced that the involved parties signed a consent decree, a “negotiated agreement that is entered as a court order and is enforceable through a motion for contempt.” This decree includes $83,000 in monetary damages that will go to three former residents who experienced the racial steering. The defendants also agreed to change their policies and submit reports to the DOJ so their compliance can be monitored in addition to paying a civil penalty to the United States.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division remarked that “it is unacceptable that race discrimination in housing persists in our nation more than a half-century after President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law.” She further stated that the Justice Department is “committed to vigorously enforcing our civil rights laws by holding housing providers responsible when they perpetuate racial segregation or otherwise engage in prohibited discrimination.”

September 2022

We want to share your fair housing highlights!

FHIP and FHAP agencies across the nation work tirelessly to end housing discrimination. Connect with NFHTA on LinkedIn and share your fair housing highlights with the hashtag #FairHousingHighlight for an opportunity to be featured on NFHTA's Fair Housing Highlight's page.