Failure to Accept Subsidies Thwarts District’s Efforts to Address Homelessness
The Equal Rights Center (“ERC”), a civil rights organization that seeks to promote equal opportunity in housing, filed a lawsuit today against Belmont Crossing Apartments, Oakmont Management Group, and Sanford Capital for violating the D.C. Human Rights Act’s (“DCHRA”) source of income provisions through its discriminatory rental practices.
Belmont Crossing representatives stated on multiple occasions that the property does not accept temporary housing subsidies, which are covered as a lawful source of income by the DCHRA. Temporary housing assistance programs are often referred to as “rapid re-housing” subsidies. These subsidies provide time-limited financial assistance to individuals and families who are living on the street or in emergency shelters. Rapid rehousing subsidies are meant to move people from homelessness into housing as quickly as possible and have been one of the centerpieces of the District’s attempts to address its homelessness crisis in the last several years. Discrimination against recipients of these subsidies obstructs the goals of this form of assistance and is expressly prohibited by the DCHRA.
The action was filed by Morrison & Foerster LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
In October 2016, a local housing counseling agency provided a tip to the ERC about possible discriminatory practices at Belmont Crossing Apartments, located at 4201 7th St SE. Specifically, the agency was attempting to assist a homeless veteran eligible for a Supportive Services for Veteran Families Rapid Rehousing Assistance (“SSVF”) subsidy to apply for an apartment at Belmont Crossing, and employees of the agency were told by Belmont Crossing agents that the property did not accept temporary subsidies. As a result of this tip, the ERC conducted a civil rights test of the property.
While posing as a prospective tenant, an ERC tester called the Belmont Crossing property and said she wished to use SSVF to help pay for a portion of the rent for a one-bedroom apartment. The Belmont Crossing representative told the ERC tester that although there was a one bedroom available for rent, the property did not accept SSVF. When the tester attempted to explain what the SSVF subsidy was, the agent followed up to explain that the property did not accept any short term subsidies.
Tragically, the homeless veteran that originally experienced source of income discrimination at Belmont Crossing passed away the same day the ERC conducted the civil rights test. After testing the property, the ERC undertook a broad program of education and outreach activities in an attempt to counteract the harmful effects of the discrimination it uncovered.
The DCHRA requires that rental properties be made available to prospective tenants irrespective of their lawful source of income. In late 2016, the D.C. Office of Human Rights (“OHR”), the local government agency responsible for enforcing the DCHRA, issued OHR Guidance No. 16-01 to provide “clarifying guidance on how OHR analyzes” source of income housing discrimination, stating that “short term rental subsidies” such as SSVF are a lawful source of income of the type contemplated by the DCHRA.