Opening Acts Newsletter: August 2, 2013

Flatbush Landlord Accused of Racial Bias

FHJC Investigation Documents Race Discrimination in Gentrifying Buildings

On August 2, 2013, the FHJC and four African American testers filed a lawsuit in federal district court (E.D.N.Y.) alleging that the owners and managers of apartment buildings located in Brooklyn discriminate against African Americans. The case resulted from an investigation conducted by the FHJC in which African American and white testers posing as prospective renters were deployed to two rental buildings located at 592-596 E. 22nd Street in Brooklyn to inquire about apartments. The investigation was commenced after the FHJC was contacted by the Flatbush Development Corporation. The lawsuit claims that the defendants, East 22nd Street Towers LLC, East 22 St. Realty LLC, Coney Management LLC, Kalman Zimmerman, Samuel Fleischman, Joseph Lichtman, and Mayer Fishman engaged in racially discriminatory practices in violation of fair housing laws.

The complaint alleges that the rent stabilized buildings on E. 22nd Street were neglected and in serious disrepair when they were occupied almost exclusively by Black tenants. When the defendants acquired the properties, units were eventually remodeled, but it appeared that Black tenants who remained in the building did not receive the same quality of renovations. Concern was expressed by tenant organizers that the owners were seeking to rent newly remodeled units to tenants who were not Black. In response to this concern, the FHJC conducted an investigation.

According to the lawsuit, African American testers were treated less favorably than their white counterparts on four tests. In stark contrast to the treatment accorded white testers, comparably qualified African American testers met with misinformation, discourtesies, and discouragement when inquiring about apartments for rent. On one test, a white tester was told about four apartments that were coming available in several weeks and, on the same day, an African American tester was told no apartments were available and none would be available for a couple of months. On the second test, an African American tester was informed that no apartment was available and that it could be “four to six weeks” and none would be available by October 1st. The same day, a white tester was shown an available apartment that was “just about ready” and that would be ready by October. On another test, an African American tester was treated rudely and quoted a security deposit requirement that was twice as much as the amount quoted to his white counterpart.

FHJC Executive Director Kumiki Gibson commented, “This case shows us how blatant race discrimination is – even in the 21st Century. Through this lawsuit, the FHJC will vindicate the rights of prospective tenants of all races and send a clear message that this type of discrimination will not be tolerated or condoned.”

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws in addition to monetary damages and attorney’s fees. The FHJC and the testers are represented by Mariann Meier Wang and Julie B. Ehrlich with the law firm of Cuti Hecker Wang, LLP.

Racial Discrimination: Underestimated and Overlooked

FHJC Policy Paper Examines National Housing Discrimination Study (HDS 2012)

On July 31, 2013, the FHJC released a policy paper entitled Racial Discrimination in Housing: Underestimated and Overlooked. The article, authored by FHJC Field Services Director Fred Freiberg, examines the results of a national Housing Discrimination Study (HDS) conducted by the Urban Institute and sponsored by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HUD report entitled, Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities 2012, purports to produce current national estimates of discrimination against Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in the rental and sales markets nationwide.

The FHJC paper points to key factors that may explain why the paired testing study failed to detect many discriminatory housing practices based on race and national origin. A sampling process that excluded many housing providers, the use of testing protocols that were less likely to detect contemporary housing discrimination, and an analysis that inadequately documents illegal housing discrimination are three factors discussed in the article.

The paper points out the difficulty with reconciling a study finding that African American renters encounter “minimal variations” in treatment within the New York housing market with the fact that the FHJC continues to document intentional, persistent, and pervasive discrimination based on race in the same housing market. The article concludes by raising a policy question about whether millions of dollars in scarce public resources might be more wisely spent to reduce, rather than study, racial discrimination in housing. To read the entire article, please visit the FHJC website at www.fairhousingjustice.org/publications.