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Off-site news items.

HUD and First Bank of Kansas City reach a 2.8 million settlement

March 01, 2016
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today an agreement with First Federal Bank of Kansas City to resolve allegations of ‘redlining’ against African American mortgage applicants.
     HUD and two fair housing organizations claimed the lender’s designated service area effectively excluded African American neighborhoods, limiting residential mortgage lending to persons based upon their race.
     Read the HUD-mediated agreement announced today. The Fair Housing Actmakes it unlawful for any person or other entity whose business includes residential real estate-related transactions to discriminate against any person because of race. “Homeownership should never be affected by the color of a person’s skin. This agreement helps to ensure that all qualified families in the Kansas City area get a fair shot at owning their own home, regardless of race,” said HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Gustavo Velasquez.
     “HUD will continue to work with banks across the nation to ensure they follow the Fair Housing Act.”

DOJ settles housing discrimination lawsuit against owner of North Fort Myers,Florida mobile home park

March 01, 2016
The Justice Department announced today that Thomas Mere, the owner and operator of Mere’s Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park in North Fort Myers, Florida, has agreed to pay $40,000 to resolve allegations that he discriminated against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
     The settlement, which is in the form of a consent order, must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The government’s complaint, also filed today, alleges that the defendant falsely told African Americans that no mobile homes, recreational vehicles or recreational vehicle lots were immediately available for rent, but told similarly-situated white persons that they were, in fact, available for rent. According to the complaint, the defendant encouraged prospective white renters to consider residing at Mere’s Park and discouraged African Americans from residing there by, for example, referring African Americans to another mobile home and RV park, making discouraging comments about units that were available for rent and failing to provide African Americans complete and accurate information about available units and lots.
     The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices. “Owners of rental properties cannot pick and choose residents based on race or color,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to hold owners who violate the law accountable for their discriminatory conduct.”

A Supreme Court pass gives affordable housing advocates a win

February 29, 2016
Advocates of low-cost housing scored a legal victory Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court left intact a ruling by California’s highest court allowing cities and counties to require builders to include a percentage of affordable units in each new development.
     The building industry had argued that those requirements amount to a government confiscation of property and should be allowed only if a particular development would cause a shortage of affordable housing. The state Supreme Court rejected those arguments unanimously in June, and the nation’s high court denied review Monday. The case involved a San Jose ordinance, passed in 2010 but not yet in effect, that requires developers of 20 or more units to make at least 15 percent of those units affordable to low- or moderate-income buyers and renters. Similar laws are in effect in more than 170 California communities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond and unincorporated areas of Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo counties.

Fake service dogs: The harm caused by pet owners who break the rules

February 22, 2016
Yancy Baer wakes up each morning and gets help from his dog Verbena or Beanz.
     “I don’t like to keep things around my bed, being an amputee, and so she will bring me my socks. She can bring me shoes, my prosthetic,” said Baer, an Army veteran and service dog owner.
     Baer also works as a firearms instructor at the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Baer says Beanz assists not only him, but the veterans at the rehabilitation center. “Sometimes it’s just the boost that they need to keep going through the day for their rehabilitation.”
     But he also says he occasionally runs into challenges. Many people with disabilities, such as Baer, legitimately need a service animal, but a KXAN Investigation found websites and policies can enable sneaky pet owners, who want to abuse the laws, to get out of paying a pet deposit at an apartment, let their animals fly free or even gain access to restaurants with their pets.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz creates new Civil Rights Unit

February 21, 2016
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, of the District of Massachusetts, announced Tuesday a new Civil Rights Unit aimed toward enforcing civil rights laws and changing the manner in which Massachusetts handles the equal protection of each individual.
     The new unit, which will function within the Civil Division, plans to work with many local communities, advocacy groups and other federal and state agencies to help make a change in issues of civil rights, according to the release.
     “We are committed to ensuring a level playing field for all residents in the Commonwealth, advancing equal opportunity, and educating the public about their rights and responsibilities,” Ortiz said in the release. “I can think of no better way to further this mission than by creating a unit comprised of attorneys and staff who are dedicated solely to enforcing and promoting federal civil rights.”
     The release stated that the unit is designed to ensure that the rights of everyone are protected, including those of “the most vulnerable and underserved” citizens of the commonwealth.

Student veterans seek fair housing opportunities

February 21, 2016
Danny Woodruff, a junior theatre major from Indiana, served in the Army for six-and-a-half years from 2006 to 2013 and was deployed in the Middle East from 2010 to 2011.
     Upon returning home, Woodruff could not find housing because many of the city’s landlords rejected his GI Bill housing allowance, a benefit, along with tuition assistance, that is available to former members of the military.
     “I had to go to Indianapolis, back home where my parents live, and have them co-sign on my lease,” Woodruff said.
     Landlords would ignore him and never get back to him, Woodruff said, adding that his lack of rent history or proof of income and pay stubs made housing applications a struggle because his housing allowance from the Veteran’s Administration is distributed electronically.
     A number of veterans have experienced difficulties getting landlords to rent to them because they receive benefits from the government that fund their housing, but as Woodruff noted, landlords often want to see pay stubs.

Co-op discriminated against disabled renter, suit claims

February 08, 2016
A daughter and care provider for her quadriplegic mother who was denied housing at a south side Indianapolis housing cooperative has sued in federal court, claiming the apartment management violated state and federal housing and anti-discrimination laws.
     Sharna McFarland claims she was sent a letter urging her to attend a mandatory new member orientation last August after she applied to rent an apartment at Grandville Cooperative. After she met with board members at the orientation session and informed them of her mother’s disability, she received a rejection letter stating “Grandview Cooperative is not handicap accessible and it will be a liability to offer you a unit that is not accommodating to everyone in the household.”
     The lawsuit filed Thursday notes Grandville is a 156-unit complex that was built and developed as affordable housing for lower-income tenants, and that its property management company, Kirkpatrick Management Co. Inc., is among the largest in Indianapolis and has a portfolio of more than 10,000 apartments.

Feds say Modesto firms scammed Hispanic homeowners

January 12, 2016
Three Modesto home loan modification companies and nine of their agents are charged Tuesday with violating the federal Fair Housing Act by targeting Hispanic homeowners for illegal or unfair loan audit and loan modification assistance because of their national origin, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says.
     The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing transactions, including those related to home mortgage loans, because of national origin.
     “Families struggling to stay in their homes need real help, not false promises that make a bad situation worse,” says Gustavo Velasquez, HUD assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Sex for repair lawsuit settlement reaches 7.9 million from Baltimore City housing

January 12, 2016
A multimillion federal lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department on alleged sex-for-repair scheme. Now the settlement has reached up to $7.9 million worth of charges to Baltimore female public housing tenants who were victimized by maintenance workers.
     The lawsuit, filed in September, stated that maintenance workers demanded sexual favors in exchange for making repairs. When the women did not comply, repairs were not made thus exposing the tenants in poor living conditions involving mold, pest infestations, lack of heat and risk of electrocution.
     Currently, 19 women have joined the suit. Cary Hansel, an attorney for the women, has called the pending settlement the largest Fair Housing Act case of its kind related to sexual harassment. To this the attorney has also filed for class action status, claiming there are many more victims to this case.

Long Island owner agrees to housing bias settlement

January 11, 2016
A couple suing a Long Island property owner over discriminatory housing policies have reached a settlement requiring the owner to scrap a policy that gave preference to people with German backgrounds.
     After unsuccessfully trying to sell their Yaphank home for years, Philip Kneer and his wife, Patricia Flynn-Kneer, sued the German-American Settlement League, which owns the underlying land and rents lots to league members, who own their homes.
     The Kneers said the league's rules, such as making membership primarily open to people "of German extraction and of good character and reputation," breached laws such as the federal Fair Housing Act.
     The New York Times quoted the league president in October as saying that previous efforts to change the "antiquated" rules had been unsuccessful.


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