housing discrimination reports on rise in NY area/FHCCNY FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 18 Apr 1998 12:13:19 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Syracuse, NY - The Herald Company


For 30 years, a federal law and community groups have worked to prevent
people from being discriminated against in choosing where to live. But
alas, reports of bias continue to arise.

Published April 15, 1998, in The Post-Standard.

April is National Fair Housing Month, and Central New York is a much better
place to live with the Fair Housing Council of Central New York Inc.
working to enforce federal fair housing laws barring discrimination on the
basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and

The victims and offenders are very much out there, as evidenced in the
complaints and settlements that keep coming in. So it is heartening and
essential to know and celebrate the fact that there is a recourse when
housing discrimination becomes a personal as well as a community issue.

Reports of discrimination against people with disabilities are on the rise
in our area, according to Merrilee R. Witherell, executive director of the
Fair Housing Council of Central New York. But race is still the No. 1
problem in housing discrimination, she added.

"I don't think race discrimination is showing signs that it's going away,"
Witherell said. "It may be changing in some ways. It's more subtle."

April 11 marked the 30th anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act, which
led to such organizations as Central New York's council, a non-profit
organization founded in 1991 and funded by the City of Syracuse and
Onondaga County through the Community Development Block Grant Program. It
opened an office in 1995 and employs three full-time and two part-time
employees, using volunteers to help complete its work.

*Getting in touch*

Hats off to them all. Bill de Blasio, the regional representative for the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said as much when he
spoke recently at the CNY council's annual Fair Housing luncheon at the
Sheraton University Inn.

He encouraged people who suspect discrimination is taking place to get in
touch with local nonprofit organizations such as the Fair Housing Council
(471-0420). "They are our eyes and ears in the community," de Blasio said.

HUD grants help the Fair Housing Council do its work and in turn, de Blasio
said, the federal agency relies on the council's community ties.

This work helps increase the chances that others won't suffer the injustice
of housing discrimination. It starts with people who are willing to report
experiences for their own benefit and for others who will follow them.

Take the case of Kim Jump, her daughter Breyanna and boyfriend, Michael
Monty. When Jump and Monty viewed an apartment in Solvay two years ago, the
property owner, Sam DeRoberts, chatted amiably about his health for an
hour. He even gave the couple tomatoes and zucchini.

When the couple returned with Breyanna, whose mixed heritage includes
African-American, Ann DeRoberts, Sam's wife, began asking pointed questions
about the child's father before finally saying they weren't interested in
renting to the couple, Jump said.

The couple even had the nerve to ask if Breyanna's black relatives would be
visiting them.

With the help of the Fair Housing Council, which sent testers to the
DeRoberts property who found evidence of discrimination, the couple filed a
complaint in federal court last fall under the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
That act prohibits discrimination in future real estate transactions.

The plaintiffs signed a settlement agreement for $8,000 on March 18 -
Breyanna's second birthday.

"Consistently across the country, race is still the most common basis of
housing discrimination complaints," said Witherell. But disability
discrimination is also of particular concern now, the source of more
complaints than any other locally.

*Future battles*

There lies a future battle for fair housing councils everywhere. People
with disabilities have only been protected for about 10 years. Some are
just now beginning to exercise their rights.

Presently, the housing councils get complaints, investigate them and choose
between two options: file a person's complaint with HUD, which could do its
own investigation, draw a conclusion and let an administrative law judge
make a final decision; or go right to federal court.

The latter is what happened with the Jump case.

Witherell said a bill in Congress, HR3206, could impede this process. That
is the wrong direction. The proposed new measure would require complainants
to exhaust their administrative remedies before they go to court, which can
take a long time and does not include punitive damages against the
defendant, Witherell said.

The Coalition to Preserve the Fair Housing Act says the proposed measure
would jeopardize abused or neglected children in group homes by narrowing
the definition of "familial status," a protected class under the FHA.
People with disabilities also would find it harder to live in group homes
in residential neighborhoods. "3206 is a backlash against them because they
realize their rights and are exercising them," Witherell said.

It's difficult to imagine what would happen to the debate on such proposals
without the Fair Housing Act and fair housing councils around to make a

Their work against discrimination makes for a 30th anniversary well worth

Copyright (c) 1998 The Herald Company

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