The Human Faces of Housing Discrimination
Housing discrimination affects people of all races, ethnicities, national origins and religions. Women, people with disabilities and families with children may also face barriers to their fair housing rights. These stories portray the human faces of housing discrimination - a diverse group of people who confronted discrimination and fought back against it by sharing their stories and filing complaints to end illegal practices.
Kids Need Not Apply
When Ana Ramirez began looking for an apartment in Toledo, Ohio, she saw a newspaper listing for an affordable two-bedroom condo available immediately. It seemed like the perfect place for Ana and her daughter.
Ana phoned the rental office, and listened with growing excitement as the woman on the phone described the terrific features of the condo. Anticipation turned to dismay when the woman told her that children were not allowed in the complex.
Because she works for the Toledo Fair Housing Center, Ana knew that the "no kids" policy was illegal. The center began a testing investigation that deployed individuals posing as renters to call the realtor and record the conversations. The realtor mentioned the "no kids" policy to all the testers, even acknowledging the policy was illegal.
Ana filed a formal complaint to ensure that no other families would become victims of the unlawful "no kids" policy. Facing the judge's promise of a stiff punishment, the rental company is negotiating a settlement.
Evicting Black Tenants
Joseph Ngangum had lived in his apartment building in Takoma Park, Maryland, for more than three years when the complex was purchased by a new management company. All of the building's residents were Black.
Shortly after the purchase, the building owner evicted all of the tenants except one, who was permitted to live in the basement and limited to building access from a side entrance. The landlord's excuse: massive renovations, leading to increased rent. The Black residents, including Joseph, were forced out despite their requests to stay and willingness to pay higher rent. The so-called "massive" renovations were completed within a week, and White tenants promptly moved into the vacated apartments.
Joseph's local fair housing center determined that other buildings owned by the same company demonstrated the same pattern - all White tenants except for a single Black tenant living in the basement and using a side entrance. Joseph's experience made him feel that Black people do not have the same right to a home as Whites. Appalled by the behavior of the building owner, Joseph filed a complaint to halt the owner's illegal practices.
No Pets - Including Guide Dogs
Linda Gagne and her husband, Alfred, were searching for a new apartment in San Jose, California. Linda is blind, and relies on her guide dog, Wyoming, to get around.
After finding a promising listing in the paper, they made an appointment to see the building. Showed the apartment, the Gagnes were pleased by the amenities, the nice neighborhood, the park nearby for walking Wyoming, and the close proximity of a bus stop. Linda and Alfred made an appointment to apply for the apartment, and went to the building owner's home. The first thing out of the owner's mouth when she opened her door to the Ganges and Wyoming was "I said no pets. If I let you have one, everyone will want one."
Despite the Gagnes explanation that Wyoming was a service animal, the owner refused to budge. She allowed them to complete an application, but had no intention of renting to the Gagnes. Despite Linda's efforts to make her understand, the apartment owner did not accept that Wyoming, not simply a dog, gives Linda the service of sight.
This was not the first time Linda and Wyoming had experienced discrimination. But unlike the exclusion from a restaurant or department store, Linda points out that you can't just choose to go live someplace else. The Gagnes filed a complaint in federal court to make sure other blind people would not be victimized, and won a settlement from the building owner.
James Johnson was looking for an affordable apartment in San Francisco with enough room for his two daughters. He saw a promising building with a "For Rent" sign out front, and left several messages for the landlord indicating his interest. He never received a call back.
Suspecting that he was the victim of discrimination because his voice "sounded Black," James asked a friend who "sounds White" to call the landlord. The friend's call was returned within a few hours. His suspicions confirmed, James reported the incident to his local fair housing center.
The center had Black and White testers phone the landlord. The White testers' calls were returned, and the Black testers' calls were ignored. James sued the landlord to protect other renters and homebuyers from what amounted to racial voice profiling.
Lisa Lincoln and her partner Don Weaver made arrangements to view a two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. When the apartment owner arrived and saw the couple, he got out of his car and began walking in the other direction. Lisa followed him and identified herself to the owner who indicated the apartment had been rented. Lisa is Japanese-American and Don is African-American. They had a gut feeling that the owner had lied to them.
Lisa asked a White coworker to call about the apartment. The owner told the coworker that it was available. Subsequent Black testers were told the apartment had been rented; White testers were offered opportunities to see the same apartment.
With the help of their fair housing center, Lisa and Don filed a lawsuit and were awarded over $100,000 in damages. The couple acknowledges that the enforcement process was rigorous, but they hope their positive outcome will encourage other victims of housing discrimination to stand up for their rights.