A U.S. District Court judge in Seattle ruled that a landlord's refusal to accept Section 8 rent vouchers had a disparate impact on African-Americans, women, and families with children in August. This ruling prompted a $250,000 settlement between the owners of Avalon Ridge Apartments and 21 of the complex's current and former tenants.
Judge John C. Coughenour approved the class action settlement, which includes a $200,000 award for damages and another $50,000 in attorneys' fees. The settlement also requires that any current tenants involved in the suit be allowed to remain at the complex in Renton, Wash.
Angela Green, an African-American single mother, was the named plaintiff in the class action lawsuit. She was one of the many tenants who received eviction notices when the new owners of Avalon Ridge instituted a "no Section 8" policy in 1997. Green attempted to find other housing but could not. She turned to Columbia Legal Services for help in stopping her eviction. Columbia Legal Services helped Green and others file a federal lawsuit.
Green, a working mother, said that she could not face the possibility of her family becoming homeless. Although Seattle and surrounding areas have fair housing ordinances protecting tenants who receive public assistance, the town of Renton and the state of Washington do not.
Green and her attorneys were forced to prove that the complex's policy against Section 8 had a negative impact against African-Americans, women, and families with minor children.
Judge Coughenour agreed with the plaintiffs' arguments and ruled that the landlords must prove that their policy was for business reasons. David Zapolsky, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs, stressed the importance of the case. He pointed out that federal cases in Chicago and
New York had failed because judges had refused to hear disparate impact arguments in Section 8 cases.
During the litigation of the case, the plaintiffs learned that developers had built Avalon Ridge with a federal subsidy and that clauses in the subsidy agreement prohibited the owners from discriminating against tenants who receive public assistance. Attorneys for both parties said that the defendants would have lost this case had it not settled.
Since Green and others filed the lawsuit, Avalon Ridge was purchased by another company, AvalonBay Communities. That company asserts that it will not turn away Section 8 tenants from the complex.