MA's Housing Discrimination Project settles two cases

The Housing Discrimination Project (HDP) in Holyoke, Massachusetts, recently settled two housing discrimination cases. The first case involved racial, national origin, and family status discrimination in Hampden County, Massachusetts. The second case involved racial and family status discrimination in Worcester County, Massachusetts.

In the first case, HDP and two former employees of the complex in question settled their federal lawsuit for $45,000. Each of the former employees received $16,250 and the HDP received $12,500. The defendants in the case sold their property during the course of the litigation.

Employees reported complex charged higher rents to African-Americans and Hispanics

The two former employees contacted the HDP and said that the complex that they used to work for was charging higher rents to non-white applicants. Specifically, studio apartments rented to whites for $325. For African-American and Hispanic renters, the rent was raised to $355 per month.

The former complex employees told HDP that some rental agents at the complex hung up the telephone on Hispanic applicants in an effort to reduce the growing Hispanic tenant population. The complex managers only allowed families with minor children to live in a back building at the complex. Finally, the former rental agents asserted that they heard other employees make derogatory comments about Hispanic and African-American tenants.

HDP conducted fair housing tests that confirmed the actions alleged by the former employees. HDP's tests showed that a white woman received a quote of $325 per month for a studio apartment. Female Hispanic testers, on two separate occasions, received quotes of $355 per month. HDP's tests also revealed that agents made Hispanic applicants go through a more rigorous application process than their white counterparts.

Joel Feldman, HDP's Legal Director, filed a complaint in federal court. The owners of the 178-unit apartment complex settled the complaint before the district court could hold a trial.

Second case involved racial discrimination

In the second case, an African-American complainant received $20,000 after a property owner denied her the chance to rent a house in Brookfield. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) granted the $20,000 award in the case.

The case began when an African-American woman applied for housing from a rental agency in Spencer, Massachusetts. The agency showed a house in Brookfield to the woman. The woman liked the house and asked to submit an application. While she was there, the owner of the house pulled up in his car and then drove away without getting out or speaking to the rental agent.

Woman told that she has "too many children"

After the visit, the complainant made many unanswered calls to the rental agency. Ultimately, the agency told her that she could not rent the house because she had "too many children."

HDP was not able to run tests on the property, but referred the case to Robert Fields, an attorney with the firm of Heisler and Fields in Springfield. Fields represented the complainant at the MCAD hearing. During an investigation, HDP discovered that the rental agency had notified the property owner that they would no longer list his property. The agency had concluded that the owner was discriminating against applicants based upon their race and family status.

The HDP investigation led to the $20,000 award in the case, one of the largest awards received by one of HDP's cooperating attorneys before MCAD.

According to Feldman, this case was notable because the landlord in question did not own a great deal of property and because the property was in a small town in Worcester County.

The Housing Discrimination Project receives funds from HUD's Fair Housing Initiatives Program for its enforcement work.