|HUD No. 00-340|
|Further Information:||For Release|
|In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685||Monday|
|Or contact your local HUD office||December 4, 2000|
HUD FILES CHARGES AGAINST A MISSISSIPPI MAN WHO USED THE THREAT OF GUNS AND DOGS TO SCARE OFF A POTENTIAL HOMEBUYER
WASHINGTON - As part of an on-going campaign to stamp out housing discrimination, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today charged a Brandon, Mississippi man with violating the Fair Housing Act when he harassed and threatened an African American family who had contracted to buy the house next to his.
HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo made the announcement at a press conference at HUD headquarters this morning. Also participating in the announcement were U.S. Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones and the victims. HUD filed the charges on behalf of Michael and Pamela Keys, the would-be home buyers, and Katherine Beard, the sellers real estate agent. Beard and the sellers are white.
"The Fair Housing Act protects people from being coerced, intimidated, threatened, or interfered with when they are buying or renting a home," Cuomo said. "In the last four years the number of discrimination enforcement actions we have taken under the Act has more than doubled. Regardless of where it occurs, housing discrimination will be dealt with swiftly, and those who file complaints will be protected," Cuomo said.
"Unfortunately, housing discrimination isnt just part of our past, but remains a harsh reality that hurts far too many Americans today," said Tubbs Jones, who represents the 11th Congressional District of Ohio. "We simply cannot tolerate any form of discrimination if we are to be a just and fair nation, and thats why I am pleased that HUD is continuing to crackdown on housing discrimination, a commitment that began under President Clinton. As Chair of the Housing Task Force of the Congressional Black Caucus, I will continue to work to end housing discrimination."
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond praised HUDs actions. "Just as it is not enough to ignore evil, it is not enough just to do good," said Bond, longtime advocate for civil rights and economic justice. "Commendable as it is, loving our neighbor is not enough. We must also actively fight against the causes of discrimination, and stand up against threats, intimidation and racism everywhere they exist in our great nation."
Beard, the sellers agent, who also attended the press conference, said: "I was dismayed at the reaction of Chris Hope, and could not believe that this animosity toward another human being could exist in modern times. I have been in the real estate business approximately 25 years and I have never witnessed anything like this. I had heard that these incidences of discrimination occurred but could not believe it was happening in my home town."
Keys and Beard told HUD investigators that on April 20, 1999, during a pre-settlement walk-through inspection of the house on Dana Street, the Keys were introduced to neighbor Chris Hope as he stood in his yard next door.
Upon meeting his new neighbors, Hope purportedly asked the Keys why they wanted to live there. When the Keys replied that the neighborhood seemed to be quiet and nice, Hope responded "its an all-white neighborhood."
According to affidavits filed with HUD, Hope pointed to his back yard and said, "Thats why my dogs were going crazy and my wife had to go calm them down. They dont like blacks either You couldnt find anywhere else to live? You dont see me moving to South Jackson [We] dont want blacks here. My next door neighbor, who owns a gun shop in town, feels the same way I do. I cant believe this!" A witness reported that Hope also told the Keys that he could not guarantee their childrens safety.
The Keys have since told HUD investigators that Hope so scared and upset them that they hurriedly left the premises before he returned. The Keys and their real estate agent filed complaints with city police, and three days later the Keys withdrew their purchase offer even though it meant forfeiting a $500 deposit. A month later the Keys bought a less desirable house in a different neighborhood of Brandon.
HUD began to investigate the Keys and
Beards allegations after receiving their complaints earlier this year.
The Keys agent has since corroborated their account of the incident,
as has an adult daughter of the couple selling the house. Hope, however,
has denied to HUD investigators that he discriminated against or threatened
HUD filed todays charges on behalf of the Keys, who say they were intimidated out of buying the house, and on behalf of Beard, whose sales commission was reduced when the house eventually sold for less money to another buyer who was white.
"We couldnt believe what was happening,"
Mrs. Keys said. "We were being threatened and harassed. It was a
"I felt that if we signed the contract to buy that house it would have been like signing a death sentence," Mr. Keys said. At the time of the incident the Keys two children were ages four and nine.
Ordinarily, housing discrimination charges heard before an Administrative Law Judge carry a maximum civil penalty of $11,000 plus actual damages, injunctive or other equitable relief and attorney fees. The penalties can be higher, however, if there are any prior violations of the law. If either party requests a trial in federal district court, the federal judge can award punitive damages.
The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. The Act covers the sale, rental, financing, insuring and advertising of most of the nations housing. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and city agencies working with HUD, and by private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds.
Cuomo noted at todays press conference that reports to HUD of sellers refusing to sell to prospective buyers because of race jumped 54 percent from last year. One way to address the increase, he said, is if more real estate professionals complete the NAR diversity training, which he commended for helping increase minority home ownership. Their efforts also demonstrate that real estate agents can help combat discrimination and promote equal housing opportunity.
To date, about 5,000 agents have taken the training, which was developed by NAR as part of a 1997 agreement with HUD.
Cuomo said when the agreement was signed only 45.8 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Hispanics owned their own homes. Now, those percentages have increased to 46.8 and 46.7 percent respectively, and have helped push the national homeownership rate to an all time high of 67.7 percent in the third quarter of 2000.
HUD is currently conducting a study of racial and ethnic discrimination in housing rental and sales to better understand the patterns of discrimination nationwide. The results will be used to target future enforcement efforts more effectively, direct legislative action needed to reduce discrimination, and create "report cards" to measure progress.
The Urban Institute is conducting the first phase of the study, which will estimate the amount of discrimination towards blacks and Hispanics in real estate markets. The results are scheduled for release in late 2001.
People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.