HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No. 00-70
Further Information: For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685 Thursday
Or contact your local HUD office April 6, 2000


WASHINGTON - Three owners of a suburban Chicago apartment complex were charged with housing discrimination today, after one asked prospective tenants over the telephone if they were black and then refused to rent to blacks, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced.

Landlord Alice Calek allegedly told one caller that she could not rent to a black person because blacks didn't fit in in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, where they make up about 5 percent of the population. Calek also allegedly told a caller that the last time black people moved into the area, their home was burned.

In addition to charging Calek with housing discrimination, HUD filed the same charges against the other co-owners of a 24-unit apartment complex in Cicero - Camille Zatopa and Raymond Nemecek. HUD's investigation showed that three owners of the apartment complex - who are brother and sisters - have never rented to an African American in the several decades their family has owned the complex. The complex is located at 2209 61st Court in Cicero.

The announcement of the housing discrimination charges comes during the week marking the 32nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and the passage of the Fair Housing Act that outlawed housing discrimination. Dr. King spent years advocating passage of the Act, and it was passed by Congress in tribute to him.

"This week in 1968, America suffered a terrible loss when Martin Luther King was cut down by an assassin's bullet," Cuomo said. "But Dr. King's historic accomplishments live on, and HUD is working to carry out his mission by enforcing the Fair Housing Act to end the illegal and intolerable outrage of housing discrimination. We want everyone who violates the Fair Housing Act to know that we will find you and pursue discrimination charges against you with the full force the law allows."

The housing discrimination charges filed against the landlords carry civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation - plus additional monetary compensation for damages, humiliation, mental distress, loss of housing rights, attorney fees, and court costs if an Administrative Law Judge rules against the landlords. If either side chooses to take the case to federal court, even higher damages can be awarded.

The housing discrimination charges filed today arise out of complaints made by Samaria Wright, an African American woman from nearby Lyons, IL, and by the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, a private fair housing group partially funded by HUD.

Landlord Calek admitted to investigators that she asked Wright if she was black when Wright telephoned about the availability of an advertised apartment. Calek told investigators she was trying to help Wright when she said: "You know how Cicero is.... you don't want to have to move in and move out right away" because of prejudice against blacks.

After Wright complained to the Leadership Council that she was a victim of housing discrimination at the Cicero apartment complex, the group asked Calek why she had refused to show Wright an apartment and informed her the action was illegal. An appointment was then set up to show the apartment to Wright, but Calek never showed up for the appointment.

"I was totally insulted and surprised when this happened," Wright said. "I can't believe that in this day and age we are still going through this type of thing."

On the same day, the Leadership Council had someone pose as a prospective renter and call the Cicero complex. Calek then asked the tester if she was black or Hispanic, and upon being told "no," Calek agreed to show the tester an apartment.

In 1966, Dr. King and prominent Chicago business, civic and religious leaders created the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities to eliminate racial segregation in housing. Today, the Leadership Council is the nation's oldest and largest fair housing organization.

Mary A. Davis, Senior Vice President of the Leadership Council said today: "In 1966 Martin Luther King came to Chicago to lead his only northern campaign against the problem of housing discrimination. The depth of the problem that King was attempting to address is made clear when 33 years after King marched in Chicago, a landlord tells both an African American prospective renter and one of our employees that she will not accept the renter because of her race, even after being told that this was illegal under Fair Housing laws."

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 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.

HUD has increased its enforcement of the Fair Housing Act under Cuomo, who noted that 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 is asking Congress for $50 million for HUD's anti-discrimination office in the Fiscal Year 2001 Federal Budget - up from $44 million in the current fiscal year, $40 million in FY 1999, and $30 million in FY 1998.

There is a history of racial problems in Cicero.

  • A riot broke out when the Clarks, an African American family from Tennessee, attempted to move into the town in 1951. Family members were escorted to safety by police after a mob of 5,000 burned the family's belongings and heavily damaged an apartment building.
  • In April 1966, a 17-year-old black teenager from West Chicago went to Cicero looking for a job, and was beaten to death by four white men wielding baseball bats.
  • Martin Luther King led street demonstrations in Chicago during the summer of 1966 but decided against marching in Cicero, which he called the "Selma, Alabama of the North." Other civil rights leaders went ahead with the march that summer.
  • The U.S. Justice Department sued the city of Cicero in 1983 for housing and employment discrimination. The suit charged that Cicero had verbally and physically harassed blacks attempting to migrate to the town. The suit claimed that since town policy said that anyone seeking a municipal job must have already lived in the town for at least one year before, blacks were essentially shut out of those jobs. The suit was settled by consent decree in 1986, when the town agreed to change its practices.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice sued Cicero in 1993 over a restrictive housing ordinance that had allegedly been enacted to reduce the number of Hispanic families that were moving into Cicero. The Department of Justice alleged that the town's occupancy ordinance was being enforced unevenly to the detriment of new Hispanic homeowners. The suit was settled in 1997, and under the terms of the settlement the town agreed to stop enforcing the ordinance; to pay $60,000 to compensate people who were harmed by Cicero's enforcement of the ordinance; and agreed that any new occupancy ordinance would be no more restrictive than nationally recognized building codes.

People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.


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