Advocates Settle Racially Biased Advertising Complaint

For Immediate Release
June 10, 2005
Contacts: Beth Pepper, Esq. Counsel for BNI 410-752-2744
Joe Coffey, Director, BNI 410-243-4468

Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI), a statewide fair housing advocacy organization and two African American home seekers have agreed to settle a complaint filed with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations against Menno Haven, Inc., a Chambersburg, Pennsylvania based senior housing facility, alleging racial bias in advertising.  The complaint, filed on March 21, 2005, alleged that Menno Haven discouraged minority applicants by using only white models in published advertisements, contrary to federal and state fair housing laws.

The complaint was based on a two-part study by BNI of advertising for 131 senior housing facilities in 21 local and regional publications over a period of one and one-half (1 ½) years.  Ads portraying only whites, BNI alleged, "convey an offensive and discouraging message to many blacks." Dickens Warfield, a BNI Board Member who helped lead the study, called many of the ads "modern versions" of ads used before the creation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.  "They send a message of discrimination," she said. "We think it has a discouraging effect on minorities looking for senior housing."

In agreeing to settle the complaint, Menno Haven, Inc. denied any intent to discriminate and offered a contribution of $100,000.00 to BNI to further its fair housing work.  The $100,000.00 amount included $3,000.00 to each of the two other complainants.   In addition, Menno Haven agreed to use a racial mix of models in future advertising and to advertise in publications directed to minorities. The respondents also agreed to train present and future employees in fair housing marketing practices, to use the Equal Housing Opportunity logo in all required advertisements, and to publish their commitment to equal housing in brochures.

The federal Fair Housing Act and the fair housing law of the State of Maryland make it "unlawful to make, print or publish…any nottice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race…"  Federal fair housing guidelines call for human models used in housing advertisements to reflect the racial composition of the region served.  Metropolitan Baltimore's population is 28%-30% African-American.

BNI was represented in its complaint by attorney Beth Pepper.  BNI, a 46 year old civil rights organization, has studied conformance with fair housing advertising laws repeatedly over the past three decades and will continue to monitor real estate advertising in the future.