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Fair Housing and the Disability Rights Movement

Posted on 25. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

Yoshiko and Justin Dart lead march. Photo credit: Tom Olin. Source: www.historybyzim.com/2013/09/capitol-crawl-americans-with-disabilities-act-of-1990/

There are 56.7 million Americans with disabilities.  People with disabilities are our neighbors, our loved ones, and our family members and just like everyone else they deserve to lead healthy, happy lives free from discrimination. There are many civil rights laws that protect the 19% of the US population living with a disability today, and we wouldn’t have those protections were it not for the tireless work of the disability rights movement.

All marginalized groups in the U.S. have had to fight for their civil rights and the fight for disability rights is no exception. Disability activists have long fought for equal access and against segregation, isolation and abuse. The 1970s saw a surge of organizing, with activists mobilized into self-advocacy groups, such as DREDF (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund), ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation, later changed to Americans Disabled Attendant Programs Today), and the CIL (Center for Independent Living). Activists employed a variety of tactics from legislative advocacy and bringing lawsuits to direct actions such as the 25 day takeover of a federal building in San Francisco, blocking intersections to protest the lack of accessible public transportation, and the “Capitol Crawl” when more than 60 activists left their wheelchairs and mobility devices to climb the 83 steps to the U.S. Capitol Building to demand the passage of the ADA.

Organizers were fighting to pass – and then pushing to enforce – landmark laws such as Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which bans disability discrimination in any federally funded program. In 1988, a broad-based coalition succeeded in amending the Fair Housing Act to protect people with disabilities, outlawing discrimination based on disability and requiring that reasonable modifications and accommodations be granted and that new multi-family housing be built to certain accessibility standards. Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations and government services, was passed in 1990.

Despite the legal protections now in place for people with disabilities in housing, discrimination is still pervasive.  According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, 55% of all Fair Housing complaints in 2017 were on the basis of disability. If you think you’ve witnessed or experienced discrimination in any form by a landlord, property manager, realtor, mortgage officer or other housing provider, call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 877-445-2100. Help is free and confidential.

#MeToo at Home: How the Fair Housing Act Protects Against Sexual Harassment

Posted on 13. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we have a new understanding of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault and the lasting effects it has on survivors. The#MeToo movement has focused on women who experience sexual harassment and assault in the workplace as well as sexual harassment from strangers in the street.

However, an area that has not received as much attention is the sexual harassment and assault that takes place in the home, from landlords, maintenance workers, property managers, and neighbors. Sexual harassment in housing is pervasive and particularly harmful because when the person harassing you has keys to your home, it takes away your ability to ever feel safe there.

The Fair Housing Act protects against two main types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo, or “this for that,” sexual harassment occurs when a housing provider or their employee requires sexual favors in exchange for housing or housing-related transactions like repairs. Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when a housing provider or their employee creates an environment of unwanted, severe, and/or pervasive sexual behavior that negatively affects a tenant.

Annually, tenants file hundreds of cases alleging either or both types of sexual harassment from their housing providers, though it’s likely that this is only a tiny fraction of the number of actual incidents nationwide. As is the case with other types of sexual harassment, most incidents likely go unreported. Though the data is limited, fair housing advocates generally find that women of color, low-income women, undocumented women, women who speak English as a second language, and women escaping domestic violence are all more likely to experience sexual harassment in housing.

In Baltimore, Maryland, 19 women filed a class action lawsuit against the Housing Authority accusing maintenance workers of quid pro quo sexual harassment. The women claimed that maintenance workers would only make repairs if the women performed sex acts and that if the women did not agree, the repairs were not made, which exposed the tenants and their children to health and safety hazards such as mold, extreme temperatures and fire risk. The case was eventually settled for $8 million.

If you are experiencing sexual harassment in housing, the Fair Housing Act protects you and is an important tool to hold the perpetrator accountable. Contact the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 504-596-2100 or 877-445-2100. Help is free and confidential.

Loving v. Virginia: 51 Years Later and the Ongoing Fight for Civil Rights Regardless of Who You Love

Posted on 10. Apr, 2018 by in Blog

Only 51 years ago, it was illegal for blacks and whites to intermarry or have children with one another in many U.S. states under anti-miscegenation laws. These laws  endeavored to maintain the “purity of the white race”, and to enforce the idea that people of color were inferior. Violators of anti-miscegenation laws faced imprisonment and hefty fines, as well as social condemnation and threats of violence.

Mildred Jeter, a woman of black and Native American heritage, and Richard Loving, a white man were married in Washington D.C. in 1958 and, upon returning to their home in Virginia, they were charged with violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. The Lovings subsequently left Virginia and lived in Washington D.C. until Mrs. Loving  appealed to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred the Lovings to the ACLU. The ACLU represented the Loving couple in Loving v. Virginia before the Supreme Court on April 10, 1967.  Later that year, the Court ruled that state laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

The Lovings’ tenacity and willingness to demand fair treatment, despite the many challenges they faced, is a testament to their strength and an inspiration for all couples who face mistreatment because of who they are. Unfortunately, many couples continue to face discrimination, including when looking for housing.

Jennifer* and John* were an interracial couple who experienced housing discrimination and harassment in New Orleans. Jennifer’s landlord made racist and stereotypical remarks about John and his black friends when they sat on the porch, such as that they were bringing down the property value, that neighbors were afraid of them, and that he felt the need to grab his shotgun when he saw them.  The couple complained to GNOFHAC who represented them to take legal action.

In addition to protecting interracial couples against racial discrimination, the Fair Housing Act also protects LGBTQ couples against discrimination.  Discrimination against LGBTQ individuals or couples is usually illegal sex discrimination because it singles out LGBTQ individuals for not conforming with sex stereotypes.

Tonya and Rachel Smith were turned away from a rental townhouse in Boulder, Colorado because Rachel is a transgender woman and the landlord believed that the Smiths’ “unique relationship” would negatively affect the neighborhood. The Smiths sued the landlord, and the court ruled in favor of the Smith’s reasoning that the federal Fair Housing Act protects LGBTQ couples.

In each of these cases, the victims sought legal help because they knew that these landlords were treating them in discriminatory and unfair ways. If they weren’t aware of their rights, however, those landlords might still be continuing with their discriminatory practices. It is crucial to know your rights, so you can seek out legal help and other services that are available to you.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (which can include sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, family status, and national origin. The Fair Housing Act protects individuals in all aspects of finding housing from obtaining loans and purchasing insurance to renting or buying a home. If you think you’ve been discriminated against by a landlord, property manager, realtor, mortgage officer or other housing provider, call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 877-445-2100.

Fair housing advocates fight discriminatory advertisements

Posted on 27. Mar, 2018 by in Blog

GNOFHAC saw this illegal housing advertisement earlier this month in New Orleans.

We can all understand the importance of fair and equal access to housing. People of all backgrounds and identities should feel welcome during all stages of searching for a home, from housing advertising to move-in day. Unfortunately, landlords sometimes publish housing ads that show or imply a preference for a certain type of renter. Ads like that are not only isolating and hurtful, they are also against the law.

Landlords and realtors can break the law with phrases like “no kids,” “no rap music,” “adult living,” or “English only.” They can also break the law by intentionally marketing to prospective renters based on something about them, like their race. Earlier this month, GNOFHAC staff noticed that Parkway Apartments in New Orleans had posted illegal, racially discriminatory print and online advertising that depicted all future tenants as white. The company chose to do the right thing and fix the ads, but GNOFHAC will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that everyone who would like to live in those homes has fair access.

Facebook has also recently come under scrutiny for its role in enabling landlords to exclude families with children, women, and other groups from seeing housing ads. The National Fair Housing Alliance, along with three other fair housing organizations, filed a lawsuit against Facebook today claiming that the way they use personal data to help advertisers target specific groups and audiences violates the Fair Housing Act.

Advertising discrimination has serious consequences for people’s lives and their ability to choose what is best for their families. Everyone deserves to be able to choose a home based on their family’s needs, not someone else’s algorithm or stereotypes. If you believe you have seen discriminatory housing advertising please call GNOFHAC at (877) 445-2100.