Washington, DC

HUD refocuses fraud probe after outcry

October 21, 1998
After triggering a racial uproar with a proposed probe of "urban fraud" in three cities with African American mayors, the nation's top housing investigator has retargeted her investigation on rural, suburban and urban areas in five states and the District.
     Inspector General Susan Gaffney of the Department of Housing and Urban Development said yesterday that after receiving a flood of complaints about singling out only three black-led cities for the inquiry, "we had to rethink" the plan. "Otherwise, our ability to conduct the investigation would have been curtailed; people would have been suspicious of our every move," she said.
     The three cities originally targeted were Baltimore, New Orleans and San Francisco.  Under the new plan, Gaffney will look at housing programs in central California, including Los Angeles and its suburbs; the eastern area of New York, including Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island suburbs; the entire state of Maryland, including Baltimore; and the District of Columbia. Northern Texas, including Dallas and Fort Worth, and northern Illinois, including Chicago, also will be investigated. 

DOJ settles accessibility cases in Chicago

October 20, 1998
Architects and homebuilders in the Chicago metropolitan area will now provide accessible housing units for individuals with disabilities, under four agreements today filed by the Justice Department. The Department also sued a suburban architect and builder for not providing accessible units in compliance with federal law.
     The lawsuit and settlements, all filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, allege that the companies violated the Fair Housing Act by not providing accessible features such as: doors wide enough for wheelchairs; light switches, electrical outlets, and thermostats in accessible locations; and reinforcements in the bathroom walls to allow for installation of grab bars.
     Under the terms of the settlements, the architects and builders
have agreed to compensate people affected by the deficiencies, revise plans for unbuilt units to comply with the Fair Housing Act, make changes to finished units to enhance accessibility,build additional units in compliance with the Act even where those units would not be covered by it, train employees, and provide money to fund structural modifications of non-complying units by their owners. 

HUD settles SF racial covenant case

October 19, 1998
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has reached an agreement with the Lakeside Property Owners Association in San Francisco to remove a covenant in its bylaws that barred non-whites from living in the subdivision.
     The covenant, placed in the bylaws of the Lakeside Property Owners Association in 1939, stated: "No person other than one of the White Caucasian Race shall rent, lease, use or occupy any building or lot in said tract...". The covenant provided an exemption for servants.
HUD uncovered no evidence that the racial restrictions had ever been enforced. However, two residents - Dr. Mark Blank and Yumi Blank -- complained because the restrictions remained in the homeowners' association bylaws, which are given to all residents and potential homebuyers in the subdivision.

Courts ponder job discrimination penality

October 16, 1998
Employers who discriminate based on race, religion, national origin or sex violate the law, but federal courts have not agreed how much illegal prejudice should cost the lawbreakers.
     A major bone of contention is which situations should qualify victims of employment discrimination to receive punitive damages, the kind intended to punish and deter wrongdoers. The Supreme Court is being asked to clarify just when such awards can be won.
   Most employees or job applicants who sue over alleged discrimination invoke a federal law known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
     The law did not provide for punitive damages until Congress amended it in 1991. 

HOME of Richmond suit settles for $480K

October 15, 1998
The owners and managers of a Richmond, Virginia, apartment complex who were accused of refusing to rent to African Americans have agreed to a $480,000 settlement - the largest settlement ever in a rental discrimination case in Virginia, the Justice Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced.
     The agreement settling the discrimination complaint, which must be approved by a judge, requires the owners and managers of Wedgewood to pay $480,000 in damages, including: $200,000 to compensate any persons identified as victims of the alleged discrimination; $195,000 to Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Inc. of Richmond (HOME), a fair housing group funded by HUD that tested the apartment complex for housing discrimination; $45,000 to compensate two African Americans who filed complaints; and $40,000 in civil penalties to the U.S. Treasury.

D.C. police sued over treatment of deaf suspects

October 14, 1998
An advocacy group for the deaf filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday against the District's police department, contending that officials routinely have failed to provide sign language interpreters to deaf crime suspects and witnesses.
     The lawsuit cited the experience of Vernon Shorter, a 36-year-old clerk with the Federal Election Commission. Shorter, who is deaf, was arrested as a burglary suspect last year and was held for three days before the case was dropped. According to the suit, D.C. police made no effort to communicate with him or to ensure that he understood the charges.
     Shorter, who joined in the lawsuit filed by the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, contends that he could have cleared up a misunderstanding and been released quickly if police had used an interpreter. 

Supreme Court lets Cincinatti law stand

October 13, 1998
The Supreme Court allowed Cincinnati to deny homosexuals specific protection from discrimination Tuesday, an order likely to create confusion over government policies on gay rights.
     The action came just two years after the justices struck down as unconstitutional a similar measure in Colorado. Unlike the 1996 ruling, Tuesday's action set no national precedent but caused outrage just the same.
     ``The Supreme Court has given up. That's horrible,'' said Alphonse Gerhardstein, who represented opponents to the Cincinnati city charter amendment. The voter-approved measure bans policies or ordinances that give homosexuals claims for legal protection from discrimination -- in housing, employment or otherwise -- based on their sexual orientation. It also bars ``any claim of minority or protected status, quota preference or other preferential treatment.'' 

Congress makes public housing changes

October 06, 1998
Congress agreed yesterday on legislation that expands the availability of subsidized housing for the first time in five years and allows housing authorities to move more working families into apartments now reserved almost exclusively for the poor.
     The public housing overhaul was attached to the fiscal 1999 spending bill for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, which was given a $2 billion boost in funding over the current year. 

High court to hear disability discrimination case

October 05, 1998
The Supreme Court accepted a case Monday that would decide how difficult it should be for disabled workers to sue their employers for discrimination after they apply for or receive Social Security disability benefits.
     The justices voted to use the case of a Texas woman fired from her job after suffering a stroke to decide an issue the Clinton administration says has left federal appeals courts "in considerable disarray."

IG: USDA's civil rights office in disarray

October 02, 1998
The Agriculture Department's civil rights office is "in disarray" and making no significant progress toward clearing up a backlog of discrimination complaints by black farmers, the department's inspector general said in a report released yesterday.
     Inspector General Roger Viadero recommended stripping the office of its jurisdiction and creating an outside task force to deal with the problem.
     The civil rights office is "making little attempt to correct the mistakes of the past," Viadero's report said.
     Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has acknowledged that current and past administrations have discriminated against black farmers. 

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