Miami's H.O.P.E. Inc. assists Justice Department in obtaining $1.3 million in race and family settlement

The owners of ten apartment complexes in southern Florida have agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle four complaints of housing discrimination investigated by the Justice Department. According to the Justice Department investigation, the complexes, one located in Kendall and nine in Boca Raton, had a history of refusing to rent apartments to African-Americans or families with children.

Kendall House Apartments, the complex in Kendall accused of race and family status discrimination, bore the brunt of the monetary settlements, agreeing to pay $1 million. It is the largest settlement ever obtained in the Justice Department's fair housing testing program. The settlement is more than double the previous high mark of $427,000 which came against another complex located in Kendall.

The owners of the nine Boca Raton complexes agreed to pay $345,000 to resolve three separate complaints filed by the Justice Department in June 1995. The complaints alleged that the complexes denied or restricted rental opportunities to Black tenants.

Under the Kendall settlement, $350,000 will go to ten households which have been identified as victims of discrimination, $400,000 will go into a fund to compensate any victims identified in the future, $100,000 will be set aside for civil penalties, $90,000 will be used to promote fair housing, and $60,000 will be used to publicize the settlement.

During the investigation, the Justice Department used testers from Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (H.O.P.E.), a private fair housing agency in Miami. Trained pairs of African-American and white testers posed as prospective tenants and inquired about the availability of units at the different complexes. The experiences of the minority testers were then compared to the experiences of the white testers to see if minority tenants had been treated differently.

The Justice Department's nationwide testing program has produced 34 cases around the country, including eight in southern Florida. Outgoing Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Deval Patrick said, "This agreement will ensure fair treatment for all south Floridians who wish to rent a home, and we will continue to urge housing providers to do the right thing."

Michelle Jacobs, a professor at the University of Miami and an expert in fair housing law, said that she thought the amounts of the settlements would interest landlords. "The $1 million settlement should catch the attention of the property owners. The only way they will change their behavior is when they know there is a financial cost."

H.O.P.E.'s executive director, Bill Thompson, agreed with Jacobs. "The housing industry should be put on notice that this wasn't a hit and run," he said.