Alabama firm will pay $30,000 for steering African-Americans and whites to different properties 

A Montgomery, Alabama real estate company that was sued by the Justice Department for allegedly refusing to refer African-Americans to properties in predominantly white areas of the city agreed to pay $30,000 in damages in late October. The lawsuit, filed earlier this year, stems from the Justice Department's highly successful nationwide fair housing testing program.

The settlement agreement, filed in the U.S. District Court in Montgomery, resolves Justice Department allegations that rental agents at the Hamilton Realty Company, based in Montgomery, steered African-Americans toward properties located in predominantly minority areas of the city. Hamilton Realty also allegedly steered whites toward predominantly white areas.

"Steering" occurs when a rental agent discloses different information concerning properties to applicants of different races. Often, rental agents steer applicants with the intent to concentrate persons in different areas according to race.

Under the agreement, the company, which owns and manages approximately 200 rental properties in the Montgomery area, will create a $30,000 fund to compensate any identified victims of the alleged discriminatory practice. Any money not paid to identified victims will be paid to the government as a civil penalty.

The suit alleged that Hamilton Realty rental agents did not tell African-Americans about certain properties located in predominantly white areas of Montgomery, while whites were told about them. It also claimed that agents would steer African-Americans toward rental properties located in minority-concentrated areas of Montgomery and whites toward predominantly minority-free areas.

"This lawsuit and the Consent Order entered signal our continuing commitment to the principle that equal rights in housing for all people is a basic right of citizenship," said Redding Pitt, U.S. Attorney in Montgomery.

"Housing discrimination is usually subtle but it inflicts deep wounds on its victims and serves to segregate our society," said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Deval L. Patrick. "All Americans should have the ability to live in the neighborhood of their choice regardless of the color of their skin."

The Justice Department was assisted in its testing by the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center.