The Fairfax County Human Rights Commission, in its first public decision involving discrimination in housing, has recommended that a Fairfax County co-op pay more than $2,700 to two Hispanic women who tried unsuccessfully to buy into the 160-unit complex earlier this year.
The commission concluded last week that the Hillwood Square Mutal Association denied membership in the housing complex to both women solely on the basis of natural origin.
The panel said it found that Hillwood's policy "is not related to a legitimate business purpose and is not necessary for the efficient operation of the cooperative." Instead, it said, "the citizenship requirement is merely a pretext to deny membership based on national origin and related factors."
"It [Hillwood] has never submitted any concrete, specific evidence to show that its population includes Hispanics," the complaint added.
Besides the fines, the commission recommended that both women be allowed to purchase units at Hillwood. "I would still like to buy one of the co-ops," said Bacilisa O. Crevosier, one of the complainants, yesterday. "But it's taken a long time and it's not easy to forget what happened or what was said."
The decision, which is not legally binding, represents the first time since the commission was chartered six years ago that one of its findings and a recommended settlement in a housing discrimination case has been made public. If the association chooses not to comply, the commission could recommend that the county attorney or other officials move to enforce its decision.
The association, which refused to comment on the decision, has until Dec. 8 to respond to the findings, and could take the matter to court itself.
Officials of the co-op previously have denied the charges, claiming its membership requirements were based strictly on financial considerations.
At a commission hearing two months ago. Hillwood representitives defended their decision regarding Celia Espinoza, a Peruvian who is a legal alien, saying that aliens pose a greater financial risk than do citizens. The fact that only one member of a couple must be a citizen to buy is additional proof that the policy is not discriminatory, association members argued.
Commission members disagreed.
"Hillwood did not present any evidence which showed that permanent resident aliens who are within a year or two of obtaining their American citizenship [Espinoza and her husband are in this category] have a history of neglecting their financial responsibilities in this country, either because of intentional default or as a result of deportation," the panel said.
Crevosier, a Mexican who has been a U.S. citizen for five years, contended she offered to buy a $21,000 co-op in cash or pay $3,000 more than the required down payment. Association spokesmen said Crevosier was denied membership, however, because her monthly salary was $25 short of the limit required for ownership.
Commission members said they based part of their findings on questions posed to Crevosier during an association interview. According to later testimony, Crevosier was asked if she knew Mexicans were killing American tourists and why her last name was French when she looked Mexican. These types of questions, the commission concluded, joined with the fact that Crevosier later demonstrated enough financial liquidity to purchase a $35,000 condomunium in Montgomery County, led to a finding of discrimination.