Housing Discrimination Project settles disability and family status complaints against Mass. complexes 

The Housing Discrimination Project (HDP) in Holyoke, Massachusetts recently settled two complaints of housing discrimination against Massachusetts apartment complexes. Both cases were filed in federal court and settled within six months.

In September, in a disability discrimination case handled by the HDP, Bertha Regish, an 89-year-old resident of Northampton, Mass., won a wheelchair ramp, accommodations to her apartment and $3,500 in attorney's fees from Meadowbrook Apartments, the apartment complex where she has lived for more than 20 years.

Regish has used a wheelchair since suffering a stroke in 1995. In October 1995, Regish moved into the Northampton Nursing Home. In March 1996, Regish had recovered enough to move back to her apartment, which she shares with her daughter, Annie. The owners of Meadowbrook Apartments refused to take action to accommodate Regish's need for a wheelchair in her apartment. Regish's other daughter, Vicki, expressed her disbelief in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. "She's been here since the complex was built. She loves it here," Vicki said.

Regish was unable to leave the nursing home because she could not get in or out of her apartment while in her wheelchair. Regish's daughters made several requests for a ramp to be built, but received no response from the complex's owners. After months of inaction by Meadowbrook, the Regish family filed suit in federal court. Meadowbrook's owners settled the suit and agreed to build a ramp and make modifications to her apartment.

Joel Feldman, an attorney with HDP, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that the defendants at first complained that building a ramp would cost them $30,000 and would be an undue financial burden. As it turned out, the ramp and modifications to Regish's bathroom, when completed, cost only $12,000. According to Feldman, it took "a lot of wrangling back and forth" to get Meadowbrook to agree to build the ramp.

After the settlement, Regish said, "I only wanted to be able to live the rest of my life at home with Annie." She later added, "I'm glad I'm going home."

The Disability Law Center (DLC) in Northampton also provided legal help in the case and received part of the $3,500 award for attorney's fees. Both the HDP and the DLC are non-profit organizations which represent disabled persons who seek help with housing discrimination cases.

Another case handled by HDP involved family status discrimination. A Massachusetts woman settled a complaint against an apartment complex in Southampton in September for $7,500. Deborah Whitten will receive a $5,000 cash settlement from Country Garden Apartments. An additional $2,500 will go to the Housing Discrimination Project which represented Whitten in her complaint. The settlement also ordered Country Garden's owners to allow Whitten and her children to move into an apartment at Country Garden.

Whitten began looking for an apartment in the summer of 1996. She and her two children were living with her mother in a cramped apartment. The landlord had threatened to evict them because of the overcrowding. Whitten found a vacancy at Country Garden and submitted an application. She was shocked when the owner of the building told her that her application had been rejected. He told her that he would not allow families with children in certain apartments at the complex. He also said that he could not approve her application because she received a Section 8 subsidy.

Whitten filed suit in federal court, claiming that she had been discriminated against on the basis of familial status. She also claimed she was treated unfairly because she received Section 8 housing assistance. In her suit, she asked for an apartment at Country Garden and unspecified damages to compensate her for the distress she suffered because of the discrimination.