Race and disability suite filed in St. Louis

200 South Hanley Road, Suite 613, St. Louis, Missouri 63105
Phone (314) 725-5900 or (800) 555-3951 FAX (314) 725-4224 TDD (314) 725-4014

Ms. Bronwen Zwirner, Executive Director, phone (314) 725-5900 1/31/97 - PRESS RELEASE

A housing discrimination suit was filed in federal district court in East St. Louis on Monday morning, February 3, 1997, by the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council (EHOC) and two Caseyville, Illinois families. Marilyn & Mitchell Hughes, Darris McFall & Micole Hughes/McFall and EHOC are charging JSM Land Trust, owner of the Casa Grande East Apartments in Belleville, Illinois, with racial and disability discrimination.

"My husband and I are both visually impaired," explains Mrs. Hughes. "My guide dog Jane is my constant companion, assisting me to be the independent person that I am. But we were told that we weren't welcome at Casa Grande East, simply because of Jane." The suit claims that the Hughes and their daughter and son-in-law, were denied housing illegally.

The suit also claims discrimination based on race. "In our investigation of the Hughes and Hughes/McFall complaints, we uncovered evidence of racial discrimination," explains Ms. Bronwen Zwirner, Executive Director of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council, a private fair housing enforcement agency with jurisdiction in Missouri and Illinois. "When we compared the treatment received by African American and White testers who posed as apartment seekers, it was clear that there were many discrepancies in the way apartments were made available and in the cost of those apartments. The Fair Housing Act is designed to make sure every one has an equal opportunity to live where they can afford to live, where they want to live. When one person is hurt, everyone suffers."

Attorneys Thomas Kennedy of Alton, Illinois and John Ammann of the Saint Louis University Law School represent all of the parties in this suit.

Statement by Ms. Bronwen Zwirner, Executive Director
Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council

This morning, Marilyn and Mitchell Hughes, Darris McFall and Micole Hughes/McFall and the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council filed a housing discrimination suit against the owners of the Casa Grande East Apartments in Belleville, Illinois, the JSM Land Trust. We filed this suit because none of us - not the Hughes and McFall families and not the St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council - will tolerate discrimination in any form. And JSM Land Trust and their representatives are discriminating. They are discriminating against people with disabilities and they are discriminating against blacks. Last summer the Hughes were told that they were not welcome at the Casa Grande East apartments because they had a dog, Jane. Jane happens to be pretty special dog. She isn't just a pet. She is an assist dog whose job is to help Mrs. Hughes navigate through her life because Mrs. Hughes is visually impaired. The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse to rent to someone because of their disability. At the same time last summer the Hughes daughter and son in law tried to rent an apartment from Casa Grande East and were refused. We believe that they were refused because they were related to someone who had a dog. The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse to rent to someone because of their association with people with disabilities.

When these families came to the Equal Housing Opportunity Council for help, we conducted an investigation. And through that investigation we not only confirmed that the apartment complex refuses to rent to people with assist dogs, we also uncovered evidence that the apartment complex was making apartments available to whites while denying to blacks that they had anything available. We continued our investigation and discovered that blacks were being quoted higher prices than whites in rent and in fees and that blacks were told about rules that were never mentioned to the white applicants. The federal Fair Housing Act has something to say about this situation as well. It makes it illegal to deny housing to one group while offering it to another and it says that quoting higher prices and stricter rules to one group over another is also illegal.

There is a basic right that we all have in this country. The right to live where we choose to live. If we can afford to live there and we want to live there, nothing should stand in our way. But there are some basic ugly truths too. And one of those ugly truths is that people are often denied their rights. That is what we are here today to prevent.

About EHOC

The Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council (EHOC) seeks to ensure equal access to housing for all people through education, counseling, investigation and enforcement.

EHOC is a private, non-profit fair housing enforcement agency serving the Missouri Counties of St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson and the City of St. Louis and the Illinois Counties of Madison, St. Clair and Monroe. Established under a US Department of Housing & Urban Development grant in 1994, EHOC investigates complaints of housing discrimination; counsels complainants about their situations and the recourse available to them; resolves such cases as are determined to be fair housing violations through mediation, conciliation, HUD Administrative process or litigation; facilitates fair housing discussions among public officials, community organizations, housing providers and the general public; and provides education about the fair housing laws to the housing industry, social service agencies, public officials, civil rights and civic organizations and the general public.