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Center Fights Housing Bias

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Thls past January, Carmel Oliver tried to rent a two-bedroom apartment for herself, her baby daughter and her six-year-old son at Cobble Creek, a relatively low-rent Ypsilantl Township complex. The management refused to rent to her, citing a policy agalnst chlldren who aren't the same sex sharing a bedroom. Carmel Oliver sued Cobble Creek, accusing them of discriminatlon based upon famillal status and sex. Carmel Oliver's case, now pending in U.S. District Court, is one of three lawsuits initiated against landlords with help from the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County (FHC). Open since February 1992, the FHC has recived 121 complaints ofhousingdiscrimination, with over half of them alleging discrimination based on race. Increasingly, however, the FHC is receiving calis from WashtenawCountyresidents, mainly women, who have been the victims of discriminatlon based on familial status (children). In 1992, the FHC received 1 1 complaints of discrimination against families with children. In 1993, the Center has already received nine such complaints. When Oliver complained to the FHC an lnvestigation was launched by sending a series of FHC "testers" to Cobble Creek. It was found that Cobble Creek malntalned a policy barring children who are not the same sex from sharing a bedroom , as well as a rule prohibiting a chlld from sharing a bedroom with a parent. It is only in the last four years that discrimination against families with children has been a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act. In 1 988, Amendments protecting children and people with disablliües were added to the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act which banned discrimination based on race, color, religión, sex, and national origin. The Michigan ElliotLarsen Civil Rights Act has barred bias against children since 1977. Housing discriminatlon against families with children is sometimes hard to prove. Most people who complain to the FHC do not come wlth the kind of evidence needed to make a winning court case. The Center advises people who belleve that they have been dlscrlmlnated agalnst to contact them lmmedlately , and to avoid any premature confronta tion with the landlord, whlch could close oíT legal options. Houslng discriminatlon agalnst families with children is also sometimes hard to recognize. In general, the FHC advises people to beware of agen ts or owners who work to discourage you from renting or who make statements or comments that children aren't welcomed. The FHC also advises people to be suspicious when they hear the following from a rental agent or owner: They do not rent to children. They keep children in certaln areas or floors of a complex. That a child can't share a bedroom wlth an adult. That a brother and sister can't share a bedroom. That there is a limit to the number of children per unit. That families with children must pay a higher rent or security deposit. In addition to providing investigative services when warranted, the FHC also offers advice, advocacy, and conciliation and attorney referrals. The FHC offers a number of options for you if you feel you have been a victim of discrimination which mayinclude a conciliation agreement with an agent or owner, a complaint filed with the city, state, or federal office, or Utigation in state or federal court. The Center, partly funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, is looking for individual members. If you have been discriminated against, or want more Information, cali the Fair Housing Center at 994-3426. Pam Kisch is Director of the Washtenaw County Fair Housing Center.


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