Our 8th Annual Fair Housing and Civil Rights Conference was held at the Springfield Marriott on April 10 and 11.The 2014 conference honored the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the 25th anniversary of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center. There were nearly 500 participants and 25 workshops on a range of housing and civil rights topics.
The keynote speaker for the morning of the first day was Jacqueline Berrien, the Chairman of the EEOC. Later that day, there was a panel discussion featuring Dick Gregory, Harvard Professor and author, Charles Ogletree, Dr. Rodney Hood and Amilcar Shabazz. The conference was free and open to the public. We are very grateful to our conference partners: the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination; HAP Housing and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and our conference sponsors: Peoples Bank; the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; the Springfield Marriott and La Justice Printing Company. Thank you to everyone who participated in making this Conference so memorable. We are looking forward to seeing you next year!
K.S. v. Springfield Housing Authority, et al.
Our client, K.S., alleged that the SpringfieldHousing Authority (SHA) discriminated againsther on the basis of national origin and sex. She was a victim of domestic violence and has Limited English Proficiency (LEP). The SHA denied her application for housing due to her having been an unauthorized occupant in other individual’s apartments. She was homeless and fleeing domestic abuse at the time. When she tried to submit an appeal in Spanish she was told that she had to translate the letter in English. After the appeal she received a decision in English. We filed a complaint with HUD in February 2014, and the parties entered into a Voluntary Consent Agreement on May 23, 2014. The SHA agreed to: (1) modify its correspondence and forms; (2) conduct a four factor LEP analysis; (3) develop a Language Access Plan; (4) post signs--in the most common languages encountered-- about how to get language help; (5) provide staff training in language services. The SHA also agreed to offer K.S. the next available 3-bedroom apartment and to pay her $2,000.
Palmer v. Pine Valley Plantation.
MFHC prevailed on a motion for summary judgmenton June 30, 2014, when Judge Dina Fein ruledthat Pine Valley Plantation CooperativeCorporation (“Pine Valley”), a 390-unitmanufactured housing community located inBelchertown, engaged in unlawfuldiscrimination against families with childrenin violation of the federal and state fairhousing laws. The decision focused on PineValley’s attempt to evict two families with children after improperly alleging it was a valid 55 and older community. HDP and SouthCoast Fair Housing v. Highland Real Estate Group, Ltd., et al. HDP and SouthCoast Fair Housing allege that Highland Real Estate Group violated federal and state fair housing laws by repeatedly publishing discriminatory advertisements on its website and by steering families with children away from properties due to the presence of lead paint. A finding of probable cause was issued by MCAD on May 28, 2014, and HDP and SouthCoast Fair Housing elected for a judicial determination in court.
Venderdys v. First Resource.
A tenant, represented by MFHC, entered into a settlement agreement with a Springfield landlord and property management company for $25,000 to settle claims of harassment based on his sexual orientation. These claims included allegations that his neighbors and their guests made homophobic slurs and vandalized our client’s door and mailbox. Although the tenant reported these incidents to onsite property management, the landlord failed to take proper actions to protect the tenant. These claims were brought to the Attorney General’s Office. After an investigation, the Attorney General helped to negotiate the settlement which, in addition to the monetary award, includes the requirement that the landlord implement a tenant harassment policy.
Jones v. Sunset Properties, LLC, et al.
Our client, D.J., is the mother of a 5-year old child with cerebral palsy. The child needs to use a wheelchair whenever he leaves home. To get out of her apartment with her son and his wheelchair, J.D. had to navigate 9 steps and 3 doors. This was difficult and dangerous. D.J. asked her landlord in writing for a wheelchair ramp in June 2013. Because her landlord owns more than 10 units, it is required to pay for the ramp under state law, unless it can demonstrate that it would be an undue hardship. Unfortunately the landlord refused to approve the request for the ramp and the tenant contacted MFHC. In April 2014, a housing discrimination complaint was filed with MCAD and HUD. The ramp, shown below, was finally installed—394 days after the initial request--on July 11, 2014.
MFHC Says Farewell to Isaac Alvarado
After nearly 5 years at MFHC as a Fair Housing Specialist, we sadly say good bye to Isaac Alvarado, who will be leaving to pursue new opportunities in the private sector. Isaac handled most of our intakes and referrals. He also did education and outreach, and was a popular presenter at local First-Time Homebuyer classes. We will miss him, but wish him great success in his new job!
MFHC Welcomes New Staff Attorney
In June 2014, we welcomed a new staff attorney, Rebecca Lopez, to MFHC. Rebecca is a 2011 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law School. Before joining MFHC, she worked as a Clinical Case Coordinator for the Tenancy Preservation Program in Springfield, Massachusetts from 2012 to 2014 to stabilize housing for tenants with mental impairments who were defendants in eviction proceedings in Housing Court. In law school she received the Public Service Award in 2011. She has a background in foreclosure defense, consumer protection and immigration law. She is fluent in Spanish. She can be reached at 413-539-9796 x 107 or email@example.com.
About the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center
Since 1989, the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center has been in the forefront of the effort to eliminate housing discrimination in Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester counties. MFHC engages in extensive educational and outreach efforts to inform the public about their right to equal housing opportunities. HDP’s legal advocacy helps to promote housing choice, preserve tenancies, avoid homelessness, create lead-safe housing for children, and provide disabled tenants with equal access to housing. MFHC has maintained its office in Holyoke for 25 years and provides all of its services in English and Spanish.