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CUOMO CONTINUES HUD CRACKDOWN ON HOUSING DISCRIMINATION WITH CHARGES RISING OUT OF THREATS TO BLACK FAMILY IN W. VIRGINIACHARLESTON, WV -- As part of a crackdown on housing discrimination ordered by President Clinton, Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo today charged members of a white family with violating the Fair Housing Act by barricading the path leading to a black neighbor's land, threatening the black family with a gun and knife, and intimidating the family by hanging black plastic ducks from a cross.
Cuomo said the Department of Housing and Urban Development has filed civil charges against: John Hobbs; his wife, Mary; their son, John Wayne Hobbs; and John Wayne Hobbs' wife, Brenda. HUD accuses the Hobbs -- of Belle, WV -- of violating the Fair Housing Act by taking actions denying their black neighbors access to their own property and by threatening to harm them.
The neighbors -- William Craig Smith and his wife, Gloria -- filed a fair housing complaint with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission in March. HUD later became involved in investigating the case and is now bringing the civil action on the Smiths' behalf to recover damages from the Hobbs family.
The Smiths said they and their children -- Courtney, 5; William, 3; and Cierra, 18 months -- have been repeatedly threatened and harassed by the Hobbs family since early last year, after the Smiths bought land next to the senior Hobbs' home as the site for their mobile home.
Cuomo said the actions the Hobbs are accused of are "outrageous, intolerable and illegal."
"We will not allow racism and bigotry to stop families across this nation from living in any home, in any apartment or in any neighborhood they can afford," Cuomo said.
"Housing discrimination is an ugly part of America's past that has no place in our nation's present or future," Cuomo said. "I have pledged HUD's full resources to double the number of enforcement actions taken in response to housing discrimination during the President's second term." President Clinton directed Cuomo on Sept. 30 to launch the crackdown.
Father Joseph Hacala, S.J., a Special Assistant to Cuomo for Interfaith Community Outreach, visited Charleston today to announce HUD's findings in the Smith case and to highlight the Department's work with state and local civil rights agencies to bring justice to victims of discrimination.
"As a native of Charleston, it saddens me that such an incident would occur here," Father Hacala said. "Strong enforcement of our nation's fair housing laws is a central component of Secretary Cuomo's goals."
HUD's investigation supported charges by the Smiths that individual members of the Hobbs family took a series of discriminatory actions, including:
HUD works with the State of West Virginia, the City of Charleston, and surrounding jurisdictions to enforce the Fair Housing Act.
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; monetary compensation to victims for actual damages, humiliation, mental distress, and loss of their fair housing rights; and 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.
"Many victims of housing discrimination don't realize they've been discriminated against, and many people are unfamiliar with the Fair Housing Act," Cuomo said. "We want to alert people that HUD, fair housing groups and state and local agencies will work to make sure their legal right to be free from discrimination is enforced."
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.
Since becoming HUD Secretary in February, Cuomo has made Fair Housing Act enforcement a priority. HUD reached an agreement with the National Urban League to fight housing discrimination and promote minority homeownership, and is working with the Department of Agriculture to promote fair housing in rural areas.
During President Clinton's first term, HUD reached out-of-court settlements on 6,517 housing discrimination cases. The Department took enforcement actions on 1,085 cases, in which HUD issued housing discrimination charges or referred cases to the Department of Justice. HUD obtained $17.8 million in compensation for housing discrimination victims during the President's first term.
The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status 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.
If an investigation shows that there is reasonable cause to believe that discriminatory housing practices have occurred and the parties will not settle, the Department issues charges like those announced today and legal action is taken.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009