The Fairfax County Human Rights Commission has asked the county attorney to file suit against a Fairfax co-op accused of discriminating against two Hispanic women who tried unsuccessfully to buy a unit in the 160-unit building this year.
If the county attorney decides to follow the commission's request, it would mark the first time a housing discrimination case has been filed by the county since a new human rights ordinance was implemented last year.
The request by the Human Rights Commission followed a refusal by the Hillwood Square Mutual Association to respond to a commission recommendation that the association pay more than $2,700 to the two women denied units in the complex. The commission, in its first public decision involving discrimination in housing, ruled last month that the women were denied membership solely on the basis of national origin and gave the co-op until Dec. 8 to comply with its recommendation for compensating the women. The recommendation was not legally binding.
The commission also recommended that both women be allowed to buy units in the complex. "No decision about whether to prosecute the case has been made by the county attorney.
At the time of the commission's earlier recommendation, the panel concluded that Hillwood's membership policy " is not related to a legitimate business purpose and is not necessary for the efficient operation of the cooperative." Instead, the commission said that Hillwood's citizenship requirement "is merely a pretext to deny membership based on national origin and related factors."
Hillwood officials refused to comment on the commission's recommendations, but have denied the allegations of bias, claiming membership policies are based strictly on financial considerations.
During a public hearing two months ago, association officials defended their decision regarding Celia Espinoza, a Peruvian who is a legal alien resident of the United States, saying that aliens pose more of a financial risk than citizens. Proof that the policy is not discriminatory is the fact that only one member of a buying party must be a citizen, the officials contended.
"Aliens tend to be more transitory," said Peter Millspaugh, attorney for the association. "They come in and out of the country more frequently than citizens. If an alien goes abroad, the association has no way to collect its financial obligations."
Commission members disagreed. Hillwood Square, the commission concluded, did not present any concrete evidence proving that permanent legal alien residents are less financially responsible than citizens.
The commission also concluded that the association's refusal to sell a unit to Bacilisa O. Crevosier, a Mexican who has been a U.S. citizen for five years, was based more on her Hispanic origin than financial liquidity. Crevosier had offered to buy a $21,000 co-op by paying cash or providing a down payment of $3,000 more than required by the association. Association officials claimed Crevosier was denied membership because her monthly salary was $25 short of the minimum required for ownership.
Commission officials, however, argued that the nature of Crevosier's interview with the co-op membership board and her later ability to buy a $35,000 co-op in Montgomery County led them to find in her favor. During the interview, Crevosier was asked whether she knew Mexicans were killing American tourists and why her last name was French when she was Mexican.
In addition to the recent findings, the commission is investigating another national-origin case and a sex-discrimination case against Hillwood Square. The U.S. Housing and Urban Authority also has been asked to investigate the complaints.
Officials at Hillwood Square declined to comment on any of the commission's actions.