Families with children, Hispanics and the disabled continue to encounter housing discrimination in the District, according to testimony at hearings last week before the D.C. Office of Human Rights.
The agency reported that since last October it had received housing discrimination complaints from only 39 persons. The majority alleged they were illegally denied housing because they had children.
John Watkins, a spokesman for the office, said few complaints are received because people are unaware of their rights or they need housing immediately and do not take time to file a complaint.
The hearings concluded the office's year-long inquiry into housing discrimination in the District. The inquiry also resulted in the office forcing 16 landlords to withdraw illegal advertisements for "adults only" apartment buildings during the last three months. Under the Human Rights Act of 1977, landlords cannot discriminate against families with children.
During last week's four-hour hearing, 13 persons testified before a six-member panel organized by the Office of Human Rights.
Mary Ann Daly, 32, a typist, told the panel that two years ago she needed a new apartment for herself and her son after the Mount Pleasant building in which they had been living was sold.
After a long search, Daly said they found an apartment on Belmont Road NW, but when she came with her belongings to move in, the manager told her the owner wanted no children in the building. The manager added the apartment had been rented to someone else, Daly said.
She also questioned the effectiveness of the city's discrimination laws. "I called some D.C. offices which deal with housing discrimination and was given a plan of action which in about a year's time might have led to some redress," she said.
Daly and her son finally found another apartment in the Mount Pleasant area, she said.
Roland E. Roebuck of the Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs testified a "significant number" of Hispanics face discriminatory lending practices, chronic housing code violations and the lack of bilingual staff in the housing industry and in city housing agencies.
"There is an apparent reticence on the part of landlords to rent to Latinos," said Roebuck, who had no specific figures on the extent of alleged housing discrimination against Hispanics. "Excuses include: 'There is currently nothing available,' 'The building is being converted to condominiums,' 'We don't accept children,' " he said.
Yetta Galiber and Don Galloway, two representatives of the handicapped, said the mentally and physically disabled face economic discrimination in housing because of the lack of affordable apartments and homes for them. Seventy-five percent of the disabled people living in the District have incomes below the poverty level," said Galloway, who is blind.
Nettie D. Hailes, president of the Washington Real Estate Brokers Association, when asked by a panel member why so few blacks live west of Rock Creek Park, said, "Some of it is the cost of those homes, and some of it is simply a matter of people preferring to live in certain locations."
She added, "But there are many people who would tell you that steering goes on, and I wouldn't deny it."
Steering occurs when real estate agents show blacks housing in black neighborhoods and whites housing in white neighborhoods.
Anita Bellamy Shelton, director of the human rights office, said after the hearing: "People keep saying discrimination today is more subtle, but much of what I heard today is the same old overt discrimination we've always seen--asking people for larger deposits, pushing back the availability date for an apartment and using different criteria for lending."