Opening Acts Newsletter: April 18, 2013

19 Buildings, But No Apartments for African Americans

On April 18, 2013, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and four African American testers filed a lawsuit in federal district court (E.D.N.Y.) alleging that the owners and managers of multiple apartment buildings discriminate against African American renters. The case resulted from an investigation conducted by the FHJC in which African American and white testers posing as prospective renters were deployed to rental buildings in the Midwood area of Brooklyn to inquire about apartments. The lawsuit claims that the defendants, Kara Realty LLC, Goder Realty LLC, “John Doe” Corporation, and agents Ehud Livne and Ivan Sheumeyko engaged in racially discriminatory practices in violation of fair housing laws.

According to the lawsuit, on two tests, Mr. Sheumeyko, the building super at 1641 Ocean Ave., told African American testers that no apartments were available while providing information about and showing available apartments to white testers. Mr. Sheumeyko also called a managing agent on behalf of one white tester and, in Russian, assured her that the prospective applicant was “white” and “good-looking.” On a third test, Mr. Livne informed two African American testers who visited the management office at 1060 Ocean Avenue that he had “19 buildings” but that no apartments were available in any of the buildings. In sharp contrast, Mr. Livne told a white tester about multiple available apartments and arranged for her to view an available apartment. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws in addition to monetary damages, costs, and attorney’s fees. The FHJC and the testers are represented by Katherine Rosenfeld and Diane L. Houk with the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP.

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated “This case makes it painfully clear why racial segregation persists. Discriminating against people on the basis of race limits housing choice, perpetuates segregation, and damages the entire community.” Freiberg added ”The FHJC is working to stop this insidious and harmful conduct, open up housing opportunities, and create more inclusive communities.”

FHJC Celebrates Fair Housing Month

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) is celebrating April as Fair Housing Month with the theme “Removing Barriers, Creating Inclusive Communities.” The Fair Housing Act was passed on April 11, 1968, one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To commemorate the 45th Anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, the FHJC has planned activities during the month of April aimed at removing discriminatory barriers to housing choice and creating more open, accessible, and inclusive communities.

First, on April 11, 2013, the FHJC held a free workshop entitled Accessible Housing: A Civil Right. The workshop, held in Brooklyn, provided information about federal accessibility requirements for the design and construction of multi-family housing. Nationally known experts on federal accessibility requirements, Scott Moore, a partner in the Omaha-based law firm of Baird Holm, and Jack Catlin, a founding partner of LCM Architects in Chicago, Illinois, provided the training for about two dozen participants. A second workshop is planned for December 12, 2013 in Manhattan. Funding for these workshops is being provided under a grant received from the Fair Housing Initiatives Program of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).

Throughout the remainder of April, the FHJC is filing a series of fair housing lawsuits, all aimed at eliminating systemic housing discrimination and opening up housing opportunities throughout the New York City region. These cases, based on evidence gathered by the FHJC through undercover fair housing testing investigations, will draw attention to the unacceptable reality that illegal housing discrimination persists in 2013 and continues to inflict harm on individuals, families, and entire communities. The first case filing is described in this issue of Opening Acts.

As FHJC President Gene Capello explained “These actions will underscore the need for more vigorous, coordinated, and sustained enforcement of fair housing laws.” Capello added “What better way to honor the memory of Dr. King and all of the courageous individuals who fought and struggled to pass fair housing laws than to demonstrate that these laws can still be effectively used to eliminate illegal housing discrimination and open up opportunities for all people.”