HOME wins $15,000 in two separate racial discrimination complaints in upstate New York

Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) in Buffalo and the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP will share in a $7,500 racial discrimination settlement that was reached in January. The settlement resolved a case handled by the Western New York U.S. Attorney's office against Elmer Wilson and his wife, property owners from Corfu, New York.

HOME uncovered evidence of racial discrimination at the Wilsons' complex while investigating a complaint of family status discrimination in 1993. A tester reported that Wilson had made discriminatory remarks during his visit to the complex. HOME sent five testers to the complex to gather evidence of racial discrimination.

According to court documents filed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Wilson made racially discriminatory remarks to three of HOME's white testers. One tester claimed that Wilson said he would not rent to "coloreds" in an "all-white neighborhood." To another tester Wilson said, "When niggers call [with large families], I raise the rent so high they can't afford it." Wilson told a third tester of an elaborate scheme he once devised in order to keep a Black applicant from moving into his building.

HUD found that HOME's four white testers were "treated in a cordial manner, immediately shown an apartment, never asked to complete an application, and offered a one-year lease even though the building was for sale." In contrast to the white testers' treatment, HOME's Black tester was not "shown or offered an apartment or lease and was informed the subject property was sold."

On April 3, 1995, HUD issued a Charge of Discrimination against the Wilsons, claiming that they had violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent housing because of race; discriminating in the terms, conditions, or privileges of rental; making discriminatory statements, and falsely claiming that housing was unavailable.

The Wilsons agreed to settle the case filed as a result of the HUD inquiry. The Wilsons have since sold the complex and no longer own rental properties.

Scott Gehl, executive director of HOME, asserted that this case showed how private agencies, HUD, and the Justice Department should work together. He said, "This case illustrates how the system was designed to work. HOME's investigation uncovered and documented discrimination. HUD, after impartially weighing the evidence, found there was reasonable cause to conclude that discrimination had occurred and the Justice Department brought the matter into federal court."

Gehl also praised the hard work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Fleming. According to Gehl, Fleming "vigorously pursued the case and brought it to a successful conclusion."

In another case investigated by HOME, an interracial couple from North Buffalo received a $7,500 settlement after Nanette Knapp allegedly refused to rent an apartment to them. The U.S. Attorney's office again represented HOME in the federal complaint.

In July 1994, the couple phoned Knapp in response to an ad she ran in the Buffalo News. Knapp first met with the young man who is white. Knapp greeted him, showed him the apartment, took an application, and even discussed the business of owning rental properties. According to the young man, everything seemed positive. He made another appointment so that his fiancee could view the apartment.

On July 17, the young man returned with his fiancee who is African-American. During this visit, the couple said that Knapp was less than cordial. There were no handshakes and no introductions. Knapp's demeanor on this visit was "cold and totally different" than the earlier visit. The couple claims that when they called to say they decided to rent the unit, Knapp did not return their call.

The couple left several more messages for Knapp who never responded. The couple then noticed that the ad for the apartment had reappeared in the Buffalo News. This time, however, the rent was lower than what they had offered to pay. The young man said, "I was flabbergasted. Knowing we were willing, able, and qualified to rent the apartment at a higher rent, she (Knapp) apparently was willing to lose money rather than rent to us."