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CUOMO ANNOUNCES HOUSING DISCRIMINATION CHARGES AGAINST TEXANS ACCUSED OF REFUSING TO RENT APARTMENTS TO BLACKS
WASHINGTON - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo today announced filing of housing discrimination charges against the manager and owners of two Austin, TX, apartment complexes, accusing them of falsely telling an African American man that no apartments were available at the same time apartments were being rented to whites.
Gilbert Pigg, who is black, said that when he visited the Le Marquee Apartments in Austin in early August, Resident Manager Maureen Russum told him an efficiency apartment would be available in a few weeks. Pigg said he called Russum the next day and told her he needed a place sooner and was willing to rent a one-bedroom apartment. However, Pigg said Russum then told him she had no vacancies. Pigg said he became suspicious and drove by the apartment complex, where he saw signs in the window still advertising efficiencies and one-bedroom apartments for rent.
"Mr. Pigg says he is a victim of what we call discrimination with a smile," Cuomo said. "Instead of using ugly racial slurs and telling someone he or she cannot move in, a rental agent simply tells minorities politely - and falsely - that there are no vacancies. Today, this is a lot more common than blatant housing discrimination, but it is just as wrong, just as illegal and just as intolerable. No smile can hide the ugly face of discrimination. "
"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."
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.
The Austin Human Rights Commission and the Austin Tenants Council - which both receive funding from HUD - worked with HUD to investigate Pigg's accusations of discrimination at the Le Marquee Apartments (48 units) and also investigated the nearby Monticello Apartments (16 units), because both are owned by Delta Investments and use the same rental agents.
Tests using black and white volunteers posing as prospective tenants at the apartments found that black testers were told no units were available or discouraged from applying, while white testers were shown available units.
Because he was denied an apartment at Le Marquee, Pigg said he moved into another apartment that cost an additional $55 a month. As a result, he said he was forced to take a part-time job as janitor to supplement his earnings as a dishwasher to afford the increased rent.
"I didn't want to believe that I was being lied to and I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt," Pigg said. "I've lived in this area for 12 years and I'm shocked that in this day and age something like this could happen."
Eva M. Plaza, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, came to Austin from Washington for today's announcement on behalf of Cuomo.
The Austin Human Rights Commission is funded with the help of a $100,000 grant from HUD. HUD awarded a four-year, $591,000 grant to the Tenants' Council to fight discrimination in 1996.
Marco Salinas, Administrator of the Austin Human Rights Commission, said: "While most apartment and property owners comply with the City's fair housing ordinance, the evidence in this case shows there is housing discrimination at this particular complex. The City Council's intent in passing the fair housing ordinance was to promote and help ensure fair housing for all of its citizens."
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 the 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.
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.
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.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009