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HUD settles case alleging housing discrimination against domestic violence victim

President Obama in March signs the Violence Against Women Act, which expands protections against housing discrimination for victims of domestic violence. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Washington Post)
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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to announce Wednesday that it has reached agreements with the owners and managers of two Berlin, N.H., properties, to settle allegations that they engaged in housing discrimination for refusing to rent to a woman who was a victim of domestic violence.

Although most know that the Fair Housing Act from 1968, and the amendments and executive orders that followed, protect against discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability, it may come as a surprise that victims of domestic violence are covered as well. It is a violation of the act to treat victims of domestic violence differently than victims of any other crime.

“These individuals are being victimized twice,” Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity told She the People — first by the aggressor and then by a landlord who is refusing to renew a lease or threatening to evict. He called the situation both “immoral and illegal,” and said that “HUD remains committed to ensuring and promoting fair housing opportunities for women and men alike.”

He said domestic violence victims are potentially protected by two different statutes, the Fair Housing Act and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a strengthened version of which was reauthorized by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2013. Vice President Biden has been a leader on the issue and others in Congress have cooperated to lend support. It is estimated that one in four women are victims of domestic violence during their lifetimes, and based on studies, Velasquez said, 85 percent of victims of domestic violence are women.

According to a HUD statement, the agreement announced this week is the result of two complaints filed in December 2013.  “In the first complaint, the woman alleged that TKB Properties and the New England Family Housing Management Organization refused to renew her lease because of police visits responding to her domestic violence-related 911 calls.  The second complaint arose when the woman was searching for another home after her lease was not renewed, alleging that landlord Michael Warren refused to rent her an apartment based on the previous domestic violence-related police visits.”

Under the terms of the agreements, Velasquez said no party is admitting any violation. HUD said the woman would receive $13,550 from the three named respondents, and the landlords have agreed to participate in fair housing training and undergo federal monitoring. She was represented by New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which receives funding through HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program.

Velasquez, starting just his fourth week at HUD, previously worked for a fair housing organization in Washington for seven years. The HUD announcement said TKB Properties and New England Family Housing also would revise their policies and leases for HUD-subsidized properties to comply with VAWA and the agency’s own regulations providing protection for victims of domestic violence in public and federally funded housing.

The agency said that although it dealt with its first case related to domestic violence in 1999, it didn’t start tracking the complaints as a subset of gender discrimination until 2012. Velasquez said there was a jump between 2012 and 2013 of such cases, from 11 to 46, with an additional 33 currently being investigated. A total of 8,212 complaints were filed with HUD and its partner fair housing agencies alleging discrimination in 2013, 942 of which involved claims related to the sex of the complainant. HUD said it is also seeing cases involving denial of mortgage loans because of pregnancy or maternity leave, with 147 maternity leave lending cases – some involving fathers — filed since 2011, including 15 so far in 2014. One was settled earlier this month.

Although the in-your-face discrimination many faced in housing decades ago has lessened, what remains over time, said Velasquez, are more subtle forms of discrimination. He said HUD has had to reassess different tactics or situations in which its enforcement can be more effective. The department continues to see thousands of complaints each year. Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, has been confirmed by the Senate to lead HUD, replacing Shaun Donovan, and is expected to take on his new job soon.

Velasquez said the rise in reported complaints by those who believe they have faced housing discrimination because of domestic violence calls may be due, in part, to stepped-up efforts to increase public awareness that HUD will pursue such cases. “It is a terrible situation for women to be the subject of domestic violence — that in and of itself is a situation that our government needs to pay attention to.” It’s at a time in their lives when they are particularly vulnerable, he said, “when they need to feel safe and protected within the confines of their own homes,” and many have children.

He advised those who believe they have experienced discrimination to file a complaint at HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY), or to go to Other options include a local, private or nonprofit fair housing agency.

“It’s something that I take seriously,” Velasquez said. “I saw that in my own personal situation growing up. … As a child you want to make sure that you have all the protection from your family, from your government, from the police, from everybody around you.”