A federal judge has ended a six-year housing discrimination dispute in Silver Spring by approving a $125,000 settlement to 11 families who contended that blacks were unfairly evicted from The Point apartment complex when the high-rise was converted to all-adult housing.
The settlement, completed Wednesday and approved by U.S. District Judge Norman P. Ramsey in Baltimore, is the largest fair-housing award ever in the Washington area, according to Kerry A. Scanlon, chief attorney for the nine black families, two white families and housing organization that filed the suit.
Scanlon said only a handful of fair-housing cases in the country have been settled for more than $100,000, and he praised the award as "a deterrent to other companies that may be in a position to discriminate in housing against minorities."
An attorney for the defendant, Krupp Associates, a development firm, said his client disagreed with the allegations.
"We settled to avoid the expense of litigation," said Robert B. Barnhouse. "It was time to wrap this thing up."
The settlement ordered Krupp to implement a comprehensive fair-housing plan, which would include a mandatory training session on fair housing for all employes of The Point and a notice of "equal housing opportunity" on all the apartment's literature.
Records on the race of all applicants and new tenants at The Point must be sent to the tenant group's attorneys and the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, according to the settlement.
"I'm very relieved," said Dianne Betsey, 43, who organized the tenants' fight against the evictions six years ago. "It was extremely traumatic and I'm glad it's all over."
Betsey lives with her husband and their three children in Silver Spring, about two miles from The Point.
The agreement comes two years after a federal appeals court in Richmond ruled there was evidence that managers of The Point had discriminated against black residents.
Four years before that, Krupp Associates converted one of three high-rises at The Point, near the intersection of Colesville Road and New Hampshire Avenue, to all-adult housing. Krupp ordered the eviction of dozens of families there, most of them black. At that point, there were 1,100 apartments for middle-income families.
The evictions carried out in 1982 "had a substantially greater adverse impact on minority tenants," the two-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled two years ago.
Of the residents living in a tower called Building Three, 74.9 percent of the nonwhites were given eviction notices while only 26.4 percent of the whites received such notices, the appeals court said, noting that "a disparate impact is self-evident."
That ruling overturned an April 1981 decision by Judge Ramsey, who had rejected the allegation by 40 tenants at The Point and one housing organization that managers had attempted to drive black families from Building Three. Ramsey ruled at the time that Krupp's decision to convert the building was "based on purely economic factors."
The appeals court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court in Baltimore to rule on whether there was "a business necessity compelling enough to justify the eviction policy."
Before that could be determined, a settlement was reached and approved by Ramsey. Ramsey could not be reached for comment yesterday.
In early testimony, a former resident manager of The Point testified that the proprietors actively tried to evict black residents from Building Three and prevent new minority tenants from moving into it.
Helen Guerra said in sworn testimony in 1980 that Krupp executives ordered staff members to find out the race of each tenant.
By enforcing apartment rules -- against overcrowding and pet ownership -- more vigorously against blacks than whites, executives tried to drive blacks from that building, she said.
Guerra also said in her deposition that one executive became convinced that prospective tenants were dismayed at seeing large numbers of black children in the swimming pool. The man said at a meeting she attended to "get 'em out of the pool. I don't care how you do it, get 'em out," according to her deposition.
Considering such alleged treatment, one former Point tenant said yesterday that she had "mixed feelings" about the group's victory. "I don't think they paid nearly enough," said Sara B. Rearden, who lives with her husband and one child in Silver Spring, about a mile from The Point. "They got out very, very light considering all the trauma they put us through."