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HUD CHARGES OREGON MOBILE HOME PARK OWNER WITH HOUSING DISCRIMINATION THAT HARMS BOY, HIS PARENTS AND ELDERLY WOMAN
WASHINGTON - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo today announced HUD has filed housing discrimination charges against a Salem, Oregon, mobile home park owner accused of refusing to rent space to a couple because they had a 4-year-old son.
The civil charges filed by HUD accuse Larry Angell, owner of the Scofield Mobile Home Park, and park manager Hazel Dwigans of illegally discriminating against Paul and Margo Gibson and their then 4-year-old son, Christopher, by refusing to allow them to live in the park last April. Christopher is now age 5.
The refusal forced the Gibson family to cancel their plans to purchase a mobile home in the park from Lorna Knodel, who was then 89 and is now 90. Knodel is also listed as a discrimination victim because of the lost sale, as is Barbara Griffin, her real estate agent.
Griffin said Angell rejected rental requests for Knodel's home site by at least four families with young children who wanted to buy the home. However, Angell allowed a 51-year-old woman with no young children to rent the site in June, enabling her to buy Knodel's home.
"Parenthood shouldn't make mothers and fathers targets of housing discrimination," Cuomo said. "Raising a family is difficult enough without the added burden of being denied needed housing."
"Housing discrimination is outrageous, illegal and intolerable," Cuomo added. "We will not allow illegal discrimination to stop families across this nation from living in any home, in any apartment or in any neighborhood they can afford."
"This year, the 30th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, I am reaffirming HUD's commitment to the crackdown on housing discrimination that we began in September at President Clinton's direction," Cuomo said. "Unfortunately, this type of discrimination isn't just part of our past. It's a harsh reality that hurts far too many Americans today."
The Gibsons said Angell told them he did not allow young children to live in his mobile home park.
"I had already written out a check for $10,000 to buy the home when Mr. Angell said he would not let me lease space because of my son," said Paul Gibson, who is a Boatswain Mate, 2nd Class, in the U.S. Coast Guard. "I was just dumbfounded. I felt like I'd been hit with a brick. It was a shock to think that we were being prevented from buying the home we wanted just because of my little boy."
"I was so upset when Paul (Gibson) came back from talking to Mr. Angell and said he wouldn't be able to buy my trailer," Knodel said. "I had really been eager to move out and into a new retirement center because I was unable to keep up the trailer myself anymore. I started to cry because I knew I had to cancel my arrangements and start over from square one, and I felt like now I was never going to get out." Knodel said she became depressed over the situation and that her health declined due to the stress of trying to sell her home.
"This is the most blatant discrimination I've ever seen," Griffin said. "I've seen a lot of people subtly make sure people don't come into their park, but I've never seen anything like this."
In addition to the report by Gibson of Angell's statement and the report by Griffin of Angell's actions, HUD's investigation found that Angell wrote in the mobile home park's newsletter last May that the park was limited to adults only. The newsletter stated: "No minor children in the main park on a permanent basis."
On top of this, the Fair Housing Council of Oregon conducted comparison tests using volunteers posing as prospective tenants that found housing discrimination was taking place. Two testers said they talked with Scofield Park representatives by phone last April after the complaints were filed with HUD.
The first tester claimed she had a 7-year-old son. She said she was told by a woman in Angell's office that no children were allowed in the park. When the tester tried to get more information, she said the person she spoke with at the park hung up the phone.
The second tester telephoned a few days later. She said she was first told there were no spaces to rent and no homes for sale. However, the park representative then asked the tester if she had children. When the tester said she did not have children, the park representative mentioned two mobile homes coming up for sale.
The Scofield Mobile Home Park consists of two rental houses, 19 mobile home rental spaces and seven recreational vehicle rental spaces. While the recreational vehicle section is supposed to be for short-term stays, HUD found at least four tenants had lived there for over a year and one had lived there for at least four years.
People living in a mobile home park rent the land on which their mobile home is located. Despite their designation as "mobile," moving such homes to a new location is costly and difficult, can often involve partially disassembling the homes and can damage the homes. As a result, a mobile home park owner's refusal to rent a site to buyers of an existing mobile home usually has the practical effect of preventing the sale of the home.
The Fair Housing Act bars discrimination against families with children. The Act allows residential communities designed for older people to exclude children, but only if they meet certain requirements. Scofield Mobile Home Park does not meet the requirements, because many of its residents are younger than 55.
In addition to family status, the Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, disability and national origin. The Act covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and city agencies working with HUD, and private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds.
A finding by an administrative law judge that the Fair Housing Act has been violated carries a top penalty of $11,000 in civil penalties for a first offense and $55,000 for later offenses. Additional penalties include: monetary compensation to victims for actual damages, humiliation, mental distress, and loss of their fair housing rights; attorney fees; and court costs. A finding by a federal court of a violation may include an assessment of punitive damages, as well as compensation for victims.
President Clinton's proposed 1999 federal budget seeks $22 million in increased funding for HUD to intensify the fight against housing discrimination. The 73 percent increase for HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity would boost spending by the office to $52 million.
People who believe they have been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD. HUD operates a toll-free national hotline to take complaints, in both English and Spanish, at 1-800-669-9777.
If an investigation shows that illegal housing practices have occurred and the parties will not settle, HUD issues charges like those announced today and legal action is taken.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009