The FHJC was initially incubated as a program of HELP USA, a non-profit provider of housing and social services for homeless families and individuals. In 2004, upon learning that many formerly homeless families were encountering discriminatory barriers during their search for permanent housing, HELP USA recruited two of the nation’s leading fair housing advocates, Diane L. Houk and Fred Freiberg, to organize the FHJC and fill the void left by the closing of the New York Open Housing Center in 2003. Sponsorship by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC) enabled HELP USA to access funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to open the FHJC in April 2005. By 2009, FHJC was operating as an independent, non-profit civil rights organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors.
Ten Years of FHJC: Select Accomplishments 2005–2015
Changed Housing Practices:
- FHJC testing investigations have led to successful litigation that opened up tens of thousands of housing units to populations previously excluded; recovered millions in damages and penalties to victims of housing discrimination; and most importantly, changed the way that many housing providers do business.
- FHJC successfully challenged discriminatory residency preferences, and other exclusionary land-use and zoning practices in suburban communities in the New York City region.
Influenced Local, State, and Federal Housing Policy:
- FHJC produced major policy reports, including:
- Increasing Access to Low-Poverty Areas by Creating Mixed-Income Housing, a national report providing case examples of mixed-income housing developed in low-poverty areas.
- Choice Constrained, Segregation Maintained: Using Federal Tax Credits to Provide Affordable Housing, a regional report examining the uneven distribution of low income housing tax credits and the siting of affordable housing in the New York city region.
Increased Public Awareness about Fair Housing Rights and Responsibilities:
- FHJC, in conjunction with Kavanagh Productions, produced and distributed an award-winning documentary on housing discrimination called A Matter of Place.
- FHJC conducted training workshops entitled Accessibility: A Civil Right to inform developers, architects, advocates, and others about federal accessibility requirements for the design and construction of new multi-family housing.
Improved How Fair Housing Laws are Enforced:
- FHJC established a unique and effective fair housing testing program by utilizing state-of-the-art technology and highly skilled professional actors to participate in fair housing testing investigations.
- FHJC brought the first federal lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act against a major bank, alleging race and national origin discrimination based primarily on testing evidence.
- FHJC, in partnership with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, designed and implemented a highly successful HUD-financed demonstration project called “Investigative Support for Testing & Enforcement Programs” (ISTEP) that has provided comprehensive training program and technical assistance to over 100 test coordinators working in 69 fair housing testing organizations, in order to strengthen fair housing enforcement across the nation.
Added Protections Available Under Fair Housing Laws:
- FHJC worked with a local coalition that secured protections in the New York City Human Rights Law prohibiting discrimination based on source of income, including rental subsidies.
Changed People’s Lives:
- FHJC assisted well over a thousand individuals and organizations to exercise their fair housing rights by providing information, investigative assistance, and referrals to cooperating attorneys and administrative agencies. Consider two recent examples below:
- Ms. P., an African American woman, applied for an apartment at a 216-unit rental complex located in a Westchester County suburb in order to move closer to her elderly father. For over a year she was told no apartments were available. The FHJC received a complaint from her alleging that she was not being rented to because of her race. When the FHJC sent African American and white testers to the complex as part of an investigation, only the white testers were told about available apartments. Ms. P., the FHJC, and two African American testers filed a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. As a result of the litigation, the case settled in 2015 for extensive injunctive relief that required fair housing training, adoption of a fair housing policy, compliance monitoring for a period of four years, and a total monetary recovery of $150,000. Ms. P. obtained an apartment in the complex, two years of free rent, and damages.
- Ms. V., a woman with disabilities who uses a wheelchair, contracted with a builder to have a new condominium apartment constructed with accessible features for her and her elderly mother in Queens. After the unit was built, she discovered that the unit did not contain the accessibility features that she had requested and it was not compliant with accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act. As a result, she was unable to use and enjoy her new condo and filed a complaint with the FHJC. The FHJC conducted an investigation at her development and at a suburban development built by the same company, and found many features that were not accessible. Ms. V., her mother, and the FHJC filed a federal lawsuit against the builder, architects, and engineer of the two multifamily condo developments. As a result of the litigation, the case settled in 2015 for extensive injunctive relief that required fair housing training, adoption of a fair housing policy, resources to retrofit Ms. V.’s condo and common areas, review of future construction to certify compliance for four years, and a total monetary recovery of $1.3 million including damages for Ms. V. and her mother. The settlement sets aside $400,000 to establish an accessibility fund that will be used by the FHJC to assist income eligible persons with disabilities to make accessibility modifications to their existing housing.