A record $308,200 damage award in an Illinois housing discrimination case
was entered in January against the owners and managers of Town & Country Villas Apartments in a South Chicago Suburb. The owners of 15 building Tinley Park apartment complex were accused by the South Suburban Housing Center, Homewood, Illinois, and the Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department of refusing to
rent apartments to blacks.
A consent decree, entered by United States District Court Judge Ilana Rovner, provides a record $250,000 damage award to the housing center, a $43,000 fine to the government and rent credits of $15,200 as incentives to attract qualified black families who were deterred from applying for housing at the complex. The South Suburban Housing Center (SSHC), a not-for-profit fair housing organization, filed a federal lawsuit in March of 1991 against Town & Country Homeowners Association. SSHC testing showed that blacks who applied for housing at Town & Country Villas Apartments were routinely told that nothing was available or that the "last apartment had just been rented" while white applicants were offerred housing.
Between March and October of 1991, SSHC sent three sets of white and black testers to the complex. In the first test, the white tester was told about several available apartments while the black tester was told that the last apartment was just rented to a
"couple from Poland." The black tester was told nothing would be available for six months. In the second test, the white tester was again told about several apartments available for immediate occupancy. While the white tester was still present, the rental manager falsely told a black tester that the white tester had "just taken the last apartment." The agent then told the white that "they have to keep 'them' out ...." Stating that she knew it was illegal, the rental agent said "'they' give the wrong social security number, don't pay their rent and then skip out."
During the third test, a different person working in the rental office told a white tester that "there are not coloreds living here ..."
After the lawsuit was filed, a rental agent confessed that she had been instructed by several of the owners of the buildings to keep the blacks out. She gave a sworn statement in which she alleged that she was told not to return phone calls of people who
sounded black. She stated that she placed an asterisk next to the name of any person who sounded black so she would know not to call them. She also stated that she was voted a $2.50 per hour raise after reporting to the Homeowners Association that she had done what they wanted by keeping the blacks out.
SSHC obtained a sworn statement from at least another former rental agent who stated that when she was hired in 1988, she had been told to tell blacks who applied for housing that nothing was available.
In addition to monetary payments, the consent order requires that the Association take specific steps to notify minorities that they are welcome at the Town & Country complex. The Association must undertake the following:
- participate in fair housing training,
- provide such training to their employees,
- publicize its nondiscriminatory rental policy in anyTown & Country advertising,
- keep records of its rental activity,
- and report its rental activity to the: Suburban Houisng Center in Chicago,
as well as the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
16% Goal Set
The decree also requires each owner at Town & Country to make a special effort to recruit qualified black tenants in their buildings until approximately 16% of the units are occupied by qualified black families. If these goals are not met, the owners are required to offer special rent incentives, through SSHC, to attract blacks who had previously been deterred from applying for housing in Tinley Park.
According to the Executive Director of SSHC, George Cole, "It is a sad commentary that in 1992, we are required to spend our resources trying to promote open housing in all white communities such as Tinley Park. For a long time black families in the south suburbs have paid a high price, both emotionally and financially, as a result of the segregatory practices of certain people and communities. Hopefully, this case will show that persons who shut the door on blacks and other minorities will also pay a high price. We intend to work vigilantly until every person in the Chicagoland area can live wherever they desire."
The lawsuit settlement reflected the consolidation of two lawsuits-- the other filed by SSHC in March of 1991. Both lawsuits were filed in Federal District Court in Chicago and sought punitive as well as compensatory damages because of the willful and egregious discrimination that allegedly occurred.
"The recovery of almost $300,000 from a single apartment complex should serve as a powerful warning that discrimination will not be tolerated in this country," said John R. Dunne. Dunne is the Assistant Attorney General and head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
This case was handled by Jeffrey L. Taren of the law firm of Kinoy, Taren, Geraghty, & Potter P.C., 332 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois (312) 663-5210.