|HUD No. 00-10|
|Further Information:||For Release|
|In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685||Monday|
|Or contact your local HUD office||January 17, 2000|
CUOMO ANNOUNCES NEW CAMPAIGN AGAINST HOUSING DISCRIMINATION, AND CHARGES IN PENNSYLVANIA AND NY FAIR HOUSING CASES
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo today announced a public awareness campaign to help people fight back against housing discrimination, and announced housing discrimination charges in cases in Pennsylvania and New York.
In the Martin Luther King Day announcement of the two cases, Cuomo said:
- HUD has charged a hate group leader in Philadelphia with violating the Fair Housing Act for making death threats against a fair housing advocate on his Internet web site and in a television interview.
- HUD has filed housing discrimination charges against the operator of a room rental locator service in New York City who refused to help deaf people find housing, and who steered people posing as renters to different neighborhoods based on their race.
DETAILS OF CASES BEGIN ON SECOND PAGE OF RELEASE
Cuomo said HUD is stepping up efforts to make people aware of their rights under the Fair Housing Act. The Act bars housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. It covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation.
The Secretary said HUD's ongoing fight for fair housing honors the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, who worked for years to win passage of the Fair Housing Act. Congress paid tribute to the civil rights leader by passing the Act just six days after his assassination in April 1968.
"The greatest tribute we can give Dr. King today is to carry on his work," Cuomo said.
Cuomo said HUD's new public awareness campaign will distribute thousands of booklets around the country, and deliver public service announcements to radio and TV stations about the Fair Housing Act. HUD will also provide more information about housing discrimination on its Internet site. HUD's fair housing material is in both English and Spanish.
The new campaign will urge people who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination to file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777, TDD 1-800-927-9275 or on the Internet.
"Housing discrimination is outrageous, intolerable and illegal, but many people aren't aware they can fight back if they become victims," Cuomo said. "Our message to everyone targeted by housing discrimination is simple: HUD is on your side. We will help you to exercise your legal right to live anywhere you can afford and to tear down barriers of discrimination."
HUD has doubled its fair housing efforts under Cuomo. Cuomo said HUD will be able to increase its efforts to combat housing discrimination even further if President Clinton's new budget request for a 14 percent increase in funding for HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is approved.
The President announced in his national radio address on Saturday that he will seek $50 million for HUD's anti-discrimination office in the Fiscal Year 2001 Federal Budget - up from $44 million the current fiscal year, $40 million in FY 1999, and $30 million in FY 1998.
The increased funding for HUD's civil rights efforts is part of a budget request of $695 million for civil rights enforcement in all federal agencies that the President is seeking in his FY 2001 Budget - a 13 percent increase. The President, citing the need to do all we can to build One America, also called for immediate passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
"President Clinton's new budget steps up efforts throughout the federal government to bring Dr. King's dream of a better America closer to reality," Cuomo said.
DETAILS OF NEW HOUSING DISCRIMINATION CASES
DEATH THREATS ON THE INTERNET IN PENNSYLVANIA CASE
Announcing HUD's latest fair housing case, Cuomo said that Ryan Wilson of Philadelphia and the hate group he runs - ALPHA HQ - have been charged by HUD with violating the Fair Housing Act. The charge stems from threats posted on Wilson's Internet web site and made by him in a TV interview against fair housing advocate Bonnie Jouhari.
Jouhari, who is white, worked at the Reading-Berks Human Relations Council in Reading, PA at the time the threats were made in 1998 and was also chairperson of the Hate Crimes Task Force for Berks County, PA.
The charge filed by HUD against Wilson says he violated the Fair Housing Act by threatening Jouhari to stop her from working to help enforce the Fair Housing Act. Jouhari's job was to help housing discrimination victims file complaints under the Act
"Tragically, this case shows that the racism and the terrible discrimination that Dr. King fought so hard to abolish remain alive and well, and have even moved into cyberspace," Cuomo said. "Our fight against these evils continues today, whether along our backroads, main streets, or the information superhighway of the Internet."
Wilson's web site carried Jouhari's picture, labeled her a "race traitor" and said: "Traitors like this should beware, for in our day, they will be hung from the neck from the nearest tree or lamp post." The site also carried an animated picture of Jouhari's office being blown up by explosives.
The web site, which is no longer on the Internet, had the URL of www.alpha.org/stateofhate
Wilson also stated on his web site that Jouhari had a "mongrel" daughter - a reference to the fact that while Jouhari is white, her daughter's father is black.
In addition, HUD has a videotape of a television interview in which Wilson responds to the question "Would you ever hang her (Jouhari) from a tree?" with the reply: "In our time, yes."
Because she feared for her life and for the life of her 16-year-old daughter, Jouhari and her daughter fled the Reading area and moved to another state after the threats on the Internet site.
The charge against Wilson carries civil penalties of at least $22,000, plus monetary compensation to Jouhari. The compensation would cover damages, humiliation, mental distress and loss of housing rights for the victim if an Administrative Law Judge rules against Wilson. If either side chooses to take the case to federal court, punitive damages could be awarded.
Wilson has provided no defense to HUD, and has not responded to attempts to interview him about the allegations or conciliate the case. However, Wilson admitted to the FBI that he indeed put the images of Jouhari on the web site and wrote the captions. Wilson also told the FBI he created the images of the Human Relations Council building burning, but said he did not advocate the blowing up or burning of the building.
HOUSING DISCRIMINATION IN NEW YORK CITY
Cuomo said HUD filed housing discrimination charges accusing John McDermott, President of Space Hunters, Inc. - a room locator service in New York City - of violating the Fair Housing Act in two ways. First, HUD charged McDermott with refusing to help deaf people find housing. Second, HUD charged McDermott with steering people posing as renters to different neighborhoods based on their race.
Space Hunters provides prospective renters with a list of rooms for rent by owners, usually in single-family homes.
The charges were filed on behalf of Keith Toto, a deaf man from of Nanuet, NY, and on behalf of the Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey.
The housing discrimination charges filed against McDermott and Space Hunters carry civil penalties of at least $22,000 plus monetary compensation for damages, humiliation, mental distress, and loss of housing rights if an Administrative Law Judge rules against McDermott. If either side chooses to take the case to federal court, punitive damages may be awarded.
In early 1999, Toto called Space Hunters using the services of a relay operator. Relay operators are typically used by hearing impaired people to communicate by phone with parties who do not have a Telephone Device for the Deaf (TDD). Toto said that the person who answered at Space Hunters said the company did not serve people with disabilities, used an obscenity when questioned, and hung up.
McDermott told HUD investigators that he did not have time to deal with relay operators serving people with hearing impairments and it was his policy not to talk to them.
"Many people don't realize the Fair Housing Act protects people with disabilities from housing discrimination," Cuomo said. "This protection isn't something people with disabilities have to request as a favor - its their right under the law, and HUD will enforce the law."
Toto contacted HUD last March. HUD then asked the Fair Housing Council of Northern New Jersey in Hackensack, which receives HUD funding to enforce the Fair Housing Act, to assist in the investigation. The Council had testers posing as prospective deaf customers call Space Hunters using a relay operator. The tester said the person who answered for Space Hunters refused to assist him and used obscenities against the tester.
A HUD investigator called Space Hunters a few days later and spoke to a man who identified himself as the manager. When told about the fair housing complaint from a person with a disability, the manager used obscenities and said his company did not have to deal with disabled people because it is time-consuming. The manager also used a racial epithet against the HUD employee, who was African American.
In response to a racial epithet used by a Space Hunters employee, HUD then requested the Fair Housing Council in April to also test Space Hunters for possible racial discrimination. A white male tester met with McDermott and inquired about renting a room in a predominately Latino area of the Bronx known as Hunt's Point.
The tester told HUD that McDermott tried to discourage him from living there, and that during their conversation McDermott referred to African Americans he has dealt with as "niggers," "lowlifes" and "dumb." Black testers who advised McDermott that they were interested in the same neighborhood told HUD he did not discourage them from living there.