The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced two grants totaling $275,000 for Suffolk University Law School’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program, which recently saw settlements in three cases resulting from its work.
The program, launched in September 2012 in collaboration with HUD and the Boston Fair Housing Commission, will receive:
- $175,000 to build its capacity to enforce fair housing laws through testing, education and litigation
- $100,000 to offer course work in fair housing, host a national fair housing conference at Suffolk University Law School and create a Fair Housing Fellowship Program, placing students in internships relating to fair housing
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and the Boston Fair Housing Commission in September 2013 settled three enforcement actions stemming from the Law School’s efforts to uncover housing discrimination:
- Suffolk Law students designed a discrimination test in which a disabled volunteer tester visited a real estate agency that had stairs to the front door. The firm refused to meet with the tester on the sidewalk or to bring the tester inside for service. The Attorney General’s Office imposed a $2,500 fine, required a written reasonable accommodation policy and filed an Assurance of Discontinuance with Suffolk Superior Court.
- Suffolk Law testers posed as families with children seeking a rental property. The housing manager told Suffolk testers they would not delead the apartments because it was too expensive. The property management agency agreed to pay $15,000 to settle and to train leasing staff on fair housing rules.
- A real estate agent’s refusal to show an apartment to a Suffolk tester using a housing voucher—based on an income-discrimination test designed by Suffolk’s program— resulted in a settlement requiring staff to receive fair housing training, put fair housing language in postings and display fair housing posters in all offices.
“Not only are we seeing results for Boston-area residents facing discrimination, but we also are providing valuable, on-the-ground training for future lawyers and instilling in them a sense of social justice,” said program director William Berman, a clinical professor of law.
“Professor William Berman and Housing Clinic Fellow Jamie Langowski are extraordinarily dedicated to promoting the right to fair housing in Boston, and I congratulate them for securing these grants to continue the clinic’s much-needed and highly effective effort,” said Suffolk Law School Dean Camille Nelson.
Barbara Fields, HUD New England regional administrator, added, “No one should be denied the opportunity to live where they want because of how they look, their faith, whether they have children or because they have a disability. This grant will help us continue our efforts to educate the public and housing industry about their housing rights and responsibilities.”
Suffolk Law School’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program has trained more than 70 fair housing testers, who pose as potential renters. Most of these testers are students, and they have conducted more than 70 fair housing tests in the past year. As the academic year began, more than 40 additional students signed on to be testers.
The first year of the program was funded by a $150,000 HUD grant that expanded an existing collaboration between Suffolk Law and the Boston Fair Housing Commission. It allowed for systemic testing focused on LGBT, disability, source of income and familial status issues as well as complaint-based testing that supports state and local Fair Housing Assistance Programs.