Austin, TX

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.

City of Austin sues landlord, claims he asked tenant for sexual favor

August 03, 2015
The city of Austin is suing a man, they say, refused service to one of his tenants unless a sexual favor was performed.
     According to the lawsuit, the defendant Laymond Thompson Jr. agreed to rent his property to a female tenant in 2013 but refused to give her a key to the unit and later requested a sexual favor from her when she was late on her rent. When the female tenant refused the sexual favor, Thompson allegedly changed the terms of her late payment, entered her unit without permission and removed her belongings.
     The rental units Thompson oversaw are located at a home in the 10600 block of Brownie Drive.

Civil rights leader on Selma, voting rights and what's next

February 08, 2015
The film "Selma" has brought story of the struggle for voting rights to a new generation, but some from the generation that led the march says its portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson misses the mark.
     "LBJ is treated as an enemy of the Civil Rights movement, and LBJ was the best Civil Rights president America has every had," said Julian Bond, who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the 1960s and served as the organization's communications director. Bond says the says the movie also unfairly impugns the role of student organizers, however, "With those exceptions it's a movie that every American should see."
     A student and close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965 and later to the Georgia Senate. Bond served as president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which he helped found, and chaired the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) until 2010.

Austin housing discrimination ordinance passes second reading

November 06, 2014
With a growing population and high apartment occupancy rates, finding a place to live in Austin isn't easy. And it can be even harder if you're a veteran, disabled or low-income and depend on vouchers to pay rent; something Danny Saenz learned when he became disabled.
     "I had to move because, I was living in South Austin and I had to move because the corporation that owned the apartment wouldn't take the voucher," Saenz said.
     The Austin City Council wants to change that by approving an ordinance to prohibit discrimination by apartment complexes against people who use vouchers as a source of income to pay rent.

Austin group home operator's arrest shows risk to tenants, advocates say

August 31, 2009
The recent arrest of an Austin boarding-home operator highlights how unregulated group homes endanger the mentally disabled and elderly in Texas, housing and mental-health advocates say.
     Tommie Yvette McKinney, 46, was arrested last month after she opened a credit account in the name of a mentally disabled boarder. The Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday that McKinney has gone to prison three times on felony theft convictions.
     Boarding homes remain unlicensed and unregulated by any state or local agency. Operators of such homes are not subject to government oversight that would keep out those with a criminal history.

Legislators go after high-risk lending practices

March 27, 2009
Predatory lending, an industry that has long hurt entire communities near the border with Mexico and ethnic minorities living in large metropolitan areas like Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston, is thriving in other areas of the state, including some West Texas counties.
     That is the conclusion of a report state senators Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Rodney Ellis of Houston have released.
     "Make no mistake," Shapleigh said at a news conference. "The payday loans are part of that toxic package."

Texas newspapers cry foul over ad complaints

October 23, 2008
Several small newspapers around Central Texas are the targets of complaints lodged by the Austin Tenants Council over housing ads it claims discriminate against renters based on family status.
     The Texas Press Association says the council is citing vague language in advertisements and trying to squeeze settlement money from the newspapers.
     The ads in question contain phrases such as "ideal for single person" or "quiet adult cul de sac" or "no smoking, adults, no pets." The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to include language in advertising that suggests discrimination based on family status, such as whether someone is single, married or has children.
     "Hundreds of people read that and think it's OK to do that," said Katherine Stark, executive director of the Austin Tenants Council.
     The council files its complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which investigates and mediates in the cases. Housing discrimination because of race, religion, national origin, sex and disability also is banned under federal law.

Texas civil rights pioneer dies

March 19, 2006
Bill Hale, the first executive director of the Texas Commission on Human Rights, was known for using innovative strategies to address hate crimes.
     Hale, remembered among other things for the first successful enforcement of the fair housing law against the Ku Klux Klan in Texas, died Friday. He was 70.
     "The whole country is watching," Hale told the Austin American-Statesman in 1993, when a state district judge ordered the Klan to turn over its records and reports involving harassment of African Americans in a Vidor public housing unit.
     It was, he said, "a victory for the people of Texas."

Television cul-de-sac mystery: Why was reality show killed?

January 21, 2006
A year ago, Stephen Wright and his partner, John Wright, embarked on a sociology experiment that only a reality show producer could concoct: theirs was one of seven families competing to persuade the residents of a cul-de-sac here to award them a red-brick McMansion purchased on their behalf by the ABC television network.
     The unscripted series, "Welcome to the Neighborhood," was heavily promoted and scheduled to appear in a summer time slot usually occupied by "Desperate Housewives." Stephen Wright, 51, who was already living in a nice house a few miles away with his partner and adopted son, said he participated primarily for one reason: to show tens of millions of prime-time viewers that a real gay family might, over the course of six episodes, charm a neighborhood whose residents overwhelmingly identified themselves as white, Christian and Republican.
     As it turned out, the Wrights did win - beating families cast, at least partly, for being African-American, Hispanic, Korean, tattooed or even Wiccan - but outside of a few hundred neighbors (who attended private screenings last summer) and a handful of journalists, almost no one has been able to see them do so.
     Ten days before the first episode was to be shown, ABC executives canceled "Welcome to the Neighborhood," saying that they were concerned that viewers who might have been appalled at some early statements made in the show - including homophobic barbs - might not hang in for the sixth episode, when several of those same neighbors pronounced themselves newly open-minded about gays and other groups.
     ABC acted amid protests by the National Fair Housing Alliance, which had expressed concern about a competition in which race, religion and sexual orientation were discussed as factors in the awarding of a house. But two producers of the show, speaking publicly about the cancellation for the first time, say the network was confident it had the legal standing to give away a house as a game-show prize. One, Bill Kennedy, a co-executive producer who helped develop the series with his son, Eric, suggested an alternative explanation. He said that the protests might have been most significant as a diversion that allowed the Walt Disney Company, ABC's owner, to pre-empt a show that could have interfered with a much bigger enterprise: the courting of evangelical Christian audiences for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Disney hoped that the film, widely viewed as a parable of the Resurrection, would be the first in a profitable movie franchise.

Canceled reality series produces a happy ending

September 26, 2005
An Austin-taped reality TV show, undone by controversy and canceled before it aired, has changed lives and united families.
     Sounds like a sappy ad for "Oprah," doesn't it? But it's true.
     Last week Steve and John Wright, a gay, white couple with an adopted black child, are moving into the house they won in an all-white, upscale cul-de-sac in the southwest Travis County subdivision of Circle C. The four-bedroom, 3,300-square-foot traditional brick home was the prize in a competition orchestrated by ABC's ill-fated series "Welcome to the Neighborhood."
     Jim Stewart, one of the Circle C residents, says he used to be "fearful and ignorant of gays," but has undergone a dramatic change as a result of taping the series last January. Now he not only embraces his new neighbors but has opened his heart to older son Jason, who -- unknown to neighbors and producers at the time -- is gay.

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