April 10, 2014

Individuals Living with HIV/AIDS Fight Back Against Housing Discrimination

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This blog was originally posted on Disability.gov.

 “Suddenly, there were no more one-bedroom apartments available,” says Keith, describing his experience searching for rental housing in New York City with a voucher for persons living with HIV/AIDS. Although brokers initially told Keith that apartments were available in his price range, they refused to rent to him once they found out that he received a subsidy from the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration.

Having a safe, stable place to call home is especially critical to persons with HIV/AIDS, for whom housing affects their access to healthcare and their ability to receive treatment. Yet Keith found that, after encountering refusal after refusal, his housing options were limited to substandard apartments, often unfinished and in no condition for a person to live.

Enough was enough. With the assistance of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), a nonprofit organization whose operations are partly funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Keith brought a lawsuit against one of New York City’s largest real estate rental brokers and a second company   ̶  and he won. In 2012, a judge ruled in favor of Keith and ordered the companies to pay damages and change their practices under a local law prohibiting discrimination based on source of income. By asserting his rights, Keith made a difference not only for himself, but for others who might have experienced similar discrimination.

Keith is one of several fair housing plaintiffs whose stories are told in A Matter of Place, a recent documentary film produced by FHJC under a HUD grant. We were proud to screen this film last week at HUD’s opening ceremony for Fair Housing Month. Fair Housing Month marks the anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. A number of state and local fair housing laws provide additional protections, based on other characteristics, such as source of income. Each year, HUD, state entities, local communities and nonprofit organizations throughout the country recognize Fair Housing Month by hosting an array of activities that enhance the public’s awareness of their fair housing rights and promote the nation’s commitment to end housing discrimination. This year’s Fair Housing Month theme is “Fair Housing Is Your Right: Use It!” Keith provides a powerful example of doing just that.

Today, complaints based on disability make up the largest single category of fair housing complaints filed with HUD. We have blogged before about the work HUD is doing to combat mortgage discrimination against individuals with disabilities, the exclusion of group homes from neighborhoods and denials of reasonable accommodations. We’ve also investigated other Fair Housing Act cases involving disability discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Last fall, HUD charged a Chicago housing provider with discrimination based on disability and familial status against a prospective tenant who was HIV-positive and had a young child. HUD’s investigation found that, on learning the prospective tenant would pay the rent using disability benefits, the owner asked her to disclose the nature of her disability. When the prospective tenant revealed that she was HIV-positive, the owner replied that she did not want people with that condition living in the apartment. The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the prospective tenant who, like Keith, also stepped forward to exercise her rights.

Fair Housing Is Your Right: Use It. I hope you will take this occasion to get the word out about housing discrimination. I also encourage you to watch A Matter of Place, and to share the film widely with anyone who might be interested in learning about Keith and others who have acted on their fair housing rights.

Persons who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to the HUD website, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Bryan Greene is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In this position, he is charged with overseeing the policy direction and operational management of this 550+ person office. Under his leadership, HUD has pursued large-scale cases to address systemic discrimination and provide widespread relief and to use HUD funding to affirmatively further fair housing. Mr. Greene has devoted his professional career to fighting housing discrimination and promoting diverse, inclusive communities.

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