Equal Rights Center Alleges Unlawful Housing Discrimination Over Company’s Refusal to Accept Temporary Housing Subsidies

Failure to Accept Subsidies Thwarts District’s Efforts to Address Homelessness

WASHINGTON, DC – The Equal Rights Center (“ERC”), a civil rights organization that seeks to promote equal opportunity in housing, filed a lawsuit today against Belmont Crossing Apartments, Oakmont Management Group, and Sanford Capital for violating the D.C. Human Rights Act’s (“DCHRA”) source of income provisions through its discriminatory rental practices.

Belmont Crossing representatives stated on multiple occasions that the property does not accept temporary housing subsidies, which are covered as a lawful source of income by the DCHRA. Temporary housing assistance programs are often referred to as “rapid re-housing” subsidies. These subsidies provide time-limited financial assistance to individuals and families who are living on the street or in emergency shelters. Rapid rehousing subsidies are meant to move people from homelessness into housing as quickly as possible and have been one of the centerpieces of the District’s attempts to address its homelessness crisis in the last several years. Discrimination against recipients of these subsidies obstructs the goals of this form of assistance and is expressly prohibited by the DCHRA.

The action was filed by Morrison & Foerster LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

In October 2016, a local housing counseling agency provided a tip to the ERC about possible discriminatory practices at Belmont Crossing Apartments, located at 4201 7th St SE. Specifically, the agency was attempting to assist a homeless veteran eligible for a Supportive Services for Veteran Families Rapid Rehousing Assistance (“SSVF”) subsidy to apply for an apartment at Belmont Crossing, and employees of the agency were told by Belmont Crossing agents that the property did not accept temporary subsidies. As a result of this tip, the ERC conducted a civil rights test of the property.

While posing as a prospective tenant, an ERC tester called the Belmont Crossing property and said she wished to use SSVF to help pay for a portion of the rent for a one-bedroom apartment. The Belmont Crossing representative told the ERC tester that although there was a one bedroom available for rent, the property did not accept SSVF. When the tester attempted to explain what the SSVF subsidy was, the agent followed up to explain that the property did not accept any short term subsidies.

Tragically, the homeless veteran that originally experienced source of income discrimination at Belmont Crossing passed away the same day the ERC conducted the civil rights test. After testing the property, the ERC undertook a broad program of education and outreach activities in an attempt to counteract the harmful effects of the discrimination it uncovered.

The DCHRA requires that rental properties be made available to prospective tenants irrespective of their lawful source of income. In late 2016, the D.C. Office of Human Rights (“OHR”), the local government agency responsible for enforcing the DCHRA, issued OHR Guidance No. 16-01 to provide “clarifying guidance on how OHR analyzes” source of income housing discrimination, stating that “short term rental subsidies” such as SSVF are a lawful source of income of the type contemplated by the DCHRA.

The complaint is available here.

ERC Executive Director Melvina Ford comments: “Discriminating against recipients of temporary subsidies, like SSVF, subjects an already vulnerable population of homeless individuals to a set of even more devastating circumstances. Yet it is one of the most common complaints that we hear from individuals and housing counselors in the District. By filing this action, we hope to put more housing providers on notice that this type of discrimination is illegal and will not be tolerated.”

WLC Executive Director Jonathan Smith states: “Housing subsidies ensure that persons at risk for homelessness can secure housing and that landlords are paid rent. Discrimination against subsidy recipients is illegal and unfair and place people at risk of prolonged homelessness. The temporary subsidy is a critical step toward securing permanent housing. Temporary subsidy programs curb homelessness in our communities and help tear down barriers to housing - goals that are stymied by the discriminatory practices uncovered here.”

Brian Busey, partner at Morrison & Foerster states: “Morrison & Foerster has a long history of working with the Washington Lawyers Committee and we are committed to ensuring that homeless and low-income persons can use temporary housing subsidies to obtain access to housing without unlawful discrimination.”

Media Highlights:
"Nonprofit Sues Sanford Capital for Housing Discrimination" Washington CityPaper (May 31, 2017)


Media Contacts:
Alexis Squire
Sr. Manger of External Affairs
Equal Rights Center
asquire@equalrighscenter.org 
(202) 370-3209

Gregg A. Kelley
Director of Development & Communications
Washington Lawyers’ Committee
gregg_kelley@washlaw.org
(202) 319-1000 x155

Ashley Laputka
Public Relations Manager
Morrison & Foerster LLP
alaputka@mofo.com
(415) 268-7241


ABOUT THE EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERCs core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action.

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of fair housing, equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights.

ABOUT MORRISON & FOERSTER LLP: Morrison & Foerster is a global firm of exceptional credentials. Our clients include some of the largest financial institutions, investment banks, and Fortune 100 technology and life sciences companies. The Financial Times has named the firm to its lists of most innovative law firms in Northern America and Asia every year that it has published its Innovative Lawyers Reports in those regions. In the past few years, Chambers USA has honored MoFo’s Bankruptcy and IP teams with Firm of the Year awards, the Corporate/M&A team with a client service award, and the firm as a whole with the Global USA Firm of the Year award. Our lawyers are committed to achieving innovative and business-minded results for our clients, while preserving the differences that make us stronger.

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