RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE
HOUSING AND CIVIL ENFORCEMENT SECTION
The Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division is responsible for the Department's enforcement of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), along with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, and the land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). During this administration, the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section has initiated 168 new lawsuits and obtained 160 consent decrees in the areas of fair housing, fair lending and public accommodations, including the first two Department of Justice lawsuits under RLUIPA.
Under the FHA, the Department of Justice may bring lawsuits where there is reason to believe that a person or entity is engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination or where a denial of rights to a group of persons raises an issue of general public importance. The Department of Justice also brings cases where a housing discrimination complaint has been investigated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development; HUD has issued a charge of discrimination; and one of the parties to the case has "elected" to go to federal court. 88 of the suits filed during the current administration are these "election" cases. In FHA cases, the Department can obtain injunctive relief, including affirmative requirements for training and policy changes, monetary damages and, in pattern or practice cases, civil penalties.
Last year, for example, the Housing Section filed 43 lawsuits, including 24 pattern or practice cases. These filings nearly doubled the number of pattern and practice cases filed in 2003, and achieved an enforcement rate that was 9 percent higher than the average number of filings over the previous 7 years. At the same time, we resolved 38 lawsuits through consent decrees, including 28 pattern or practice cases.
In 2005 to date, we have filed 14 lawsuits, including 7 pattern or practice cases. We also have obtained 14 consent decrees, 8 of which were in pattern or practice cases.
Several cases we have filed or resolved recently exemplify our efforts to ensure the availability of the housing opportunities guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act. (1)
- Fair Lending: During 2004, we filed and resolved fair lending cases alleging redlining of predominantly minority neighborhoods in two major metropolitan areas, in violation of the FHA and ECOA. The loan subsidy programs that are included as part of the remedial plan in both of these cases will have a direct and substantial impact in making housing more readily available to the residents of the formerly redlined areas.
- U.S. v. Old Kent Bank (E.D. Mich.) involved predominantly African American neighborhoods of the Detroit MSA and was the Department's first case alleging discrimination in small business lending, as well as residential lending. Pursuant to the May 2004 settlement agreement, the bank's successor will open three new branch offices, spend $200,000 for consumer education programs, and spend $3 million to subsidize loans in the formerly redlined areas, which we project will total approximately $50 million in subsidized loans.
- U.S. v. First American Bank (N.D. Ill.) involved the predominantly African American and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Chicago and Kankakee metropolitan areas, and alleged that the bank failed to provide residential, small business or consumer lending services. Pursuant to the July 2004 consent order, First American Bank will open four new branch offices, spend $700,000 on outreach and consumer education programs, and spend $5 million to subsidize loans in the formerly redlined areas, which we project will total approximately $80 million in subsidized loans.
- Rental Discrimination:
- In April 2005, we obtained a Consent Order resolving United States v. B&S Properties (E.D. La.). The complaint alleged a pattern or practice of race discrimination by the owners of apartments in Chalmette, Louisiana. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the owners and managers of the Foster Apartments either turned away black testers or steered them to an apartment building in a black neighborhood while encouraging whites to rent their other properties. Under the terms of the Consent Order, the defendants will pay a $100,000 civil penalty, $60,000 in damages to victims, and $10,000 to fund community-wide training for tenants and landlords regarding the Fair Housing Act. The four-year decree also provides for monitoring of the defendants' operation of their business, requires them to undergo training and imposes restrictions on any subsequent buyer of the rental properties. This case was based on evidence developed through the Division's testing program.
- In March 2005, the court approved the consent decree in United States v. City of Blakely Housing Authority (M.D. Ga.). The decree requires the defendants to pay $252,500 in compensatory damages, train employees on fair housing law, and establish new admissions policies and procedures to ensure that applicants are treated in a non-discriminatory manner. Additionally, the executive director of the Blakely Housing Authority must resign under the terms of the decree. In this case, the United States alleged that defendants violated the Fair Housing Act by, among other things, reserving one of their apartment complexes for whites and steering African-Americans to other complexes.
- Sexual Harassment:
- In 2004, we obtained a jury verdict of over one million dollars in United States v. Veal (E.D. Mo.), the largest verdict the Department of Justice has ever obtained in a Fair Housing Act case. We alleged a pattern or practice of discrimination by the defendant landlord, who systematically sought sexual favors from female tenants. The victims included a 19-year old single mother, a mentally challenged female tenant and one victim who considered committing suicide after several instances of fondling by the defendant. We also obtained a favorable jury verdict recently in another pattern or practice sexual harassment case against a landlord, United States v. Koch (D. Neb.).
- In December 2004, we entered into a consent decree in United States v. Beaudet (D. Minn.), resolving our allegations that a St. Paul, Minnesota landlord subjected female tenants to unwanted sexual touching and advances, conditioned the terms of women's tenancy on the granting of sexual favors, and entered the apartments of female tenants without permission or notice. Under the consent decree, the defendant will pay $400,000 in damages to the victims and a $25,000 civil penalty.
- Disability Discrimination: Since the beginning of 2004 we have filed 13 new cases and obtained 14 consent decrees involving violations of the Fair Housing Act's accessibility requirements for new multi-family housing.
- Our seven most recent consent decrees against private developers require retrofits to a total of 5,500 apartment units in 15 states; funds for payments to victims and fair housing organizations totaling nearly $2 million; and other relief, including training, advertising, and payments of civil penalties.
- In December 2004, we entered into a consent decree in United States v. Pacific Life Insurance Co. (New Forest) (W.D. Tex.) with the former owner and the manager of a retirement community in San Antonio, Texas, under which they will pay $420,000 to resolve our allegations that they discriminated based upon disability by evicting tenants who could live independently but had mobility impairments or required more than minimal assistive-living services.
- In 2004, we also filed and settled our first case to enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and HUD's implementing regulations. The consent decree we reached in United States v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City (D. Md.) requires extensive program and policy changes, nearly 2,000 new housing opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and a fund of $1 million to pay damages to victims.
- Discriminatory Land Use and Zoning Practices
- In May 2005, we filed a complaint in United States v. City of Saraland, Alabama (S.D. Ala.), alleging that the City of Saraland, Alabama refused to grant a special exception for the establishment of a foster home for mentally disabled adults in a residential zone of the City.
- In January 2005, the Court entered a Consent Order resolving United States, et al. v. City of Agawam (D. Mass.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice case alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. The suit alleged that the City of Agawam, Massachusetts discriminated against a group of black and Hispanic migrant farm workers when it rejected a plan to build a residence for twenty-seven farm workers in the City. The consent order requires the City to pay $250,000 in damages to the farm workers and their employer, in addition to a $10,000 civil penalty. The City will also issue a building permit for the housing, conduct fair housing training for city employees, and modify its zoning code to allow farm worker housing on agricultural property. The consent decree will remain in effect for four years.
- In November 2004, the United States filed a complaint and consent decree resolving United States v. City of Janesville (N.D. Iowa), a Fair Housing Act land use case alleging discrimination based on race, color and national origin. The complaint alleges that the City of Janesville, Iowa, discriminated in January 2000, when it denied the re-zoning request of private developers who sought to build a 116-lot manufactured home residential development in the City. The consent decree requires the City to: provide fair housing training to City officials; modify its local zoning ordinance; undertake a Fair Housing outreach plan to support the development of affordable housing in Janesville; submit biannual compliance reports; and pay $45,000 in compensatory damages to the developers and a $10,000 civil penalty. The consent decree will remain in effect for four years.
In addition to these and the many other cases that we bring to ensure fair housing opportunities, the Division also is involved in ongoing efforts to educate the public and various entities involved in the housing industry about their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act. For example, in 2004, we issued a Joint Statement on Reasonable Accommodations with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The joint statement provides technical assistance, in a series of questions and answers, regarding the rights and obligations of persons with disabilities and housing providers relating to reasonable accommodations, and is available online at /crt/about/hce/jointstatement_ra.htm. In 2005, we launched our Multi-Family Access Forum, intended to assist developers, architects and others understand the FHA's accessibility requirements, and to promote a dialogue between the developers of multi-family housing and persons with disabilities and their advocates. In May, we held our first event in Chantilly, Virginia.