Raleigh Housing Authority settles discrimination suit
Leigh Tauss, Indy Week - Oct. 29, 2019
Bill Cresenzo, North Carolina Lawyers Weekly - October 23, 2019
RALEIGH · October 16, 2019—Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Duke Civil Justice Clinic announced today that they recently settled a federal discrimination complaint filed against the Raleigh Housing Authority (RHA) on behalf of a public housing tenant who was a victim of domestic violence.
The settlement includes a Federal Consent Decree—believed to be the first in the country to address a landlord's obligations under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which requires housing authorities to provide tenants who are victims of domestic violence with specific housing protections.
In the lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina in 2018, the tenant alleged that the Raleigh Housing Authority violated the federal Fair Housing Act by denying her repeated requests for an emergency transfer to a safe location. The tenant was the victim of multiple crimes at her housing unit: violence perpetrated by an ex-boyfriend who strangled her; a home intruder who threatened her guest at gunpoint; and armed men who shot bullets into her apartment. In addition, she alleged that the Raleigh Housing Authority was in violation of VAWA. RHA has denied the allegations.
The Federal Consent Decree requires RHA to:
Provide tenants who are facing eviction with written notice of their rights under VAWA; (One of VAWA's goals is to ensure that victims of domestic violence do not face eviction as a result of the abuse.)
Provide tenants who are denied admission to RHA with written notice of their rights under VAWA; (Another goal of VAWA is to ensure that victims of domestic violence—who often have a poor credit history, prior evictions, and criminal charges related to the abuse—are not denied housing as a result.)
Make emergency transfer request forms and the RHA's emergency transfer plan available and accessible to all tenants;
Assign a current RHA employee as a point person to answer questions about VAWA's housing protections;
Provide regular, mandatory training on the Fair Housing Act for all property managers and employees involved in lease intake, transfer decisions and lease termination decisions;
Provide regular, mandatory training on VAWA and domestic violence for all property managers and employees involved in lease intake, transfer decisions and lease termination decisions;
Send a letter to public housing tenants each year soliciting feedback on all aspects of the housing authority, including its employees;
Provide documentation to Legal Aid of North Carolina for three consecutive years demonstrating RHA's compliance with the Consent Decree.
"The Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina is committed to ensuring that women and children in public housing do not become homeless because they have been denied the protections of the Fair Housing Act or the Violence Against Women Act," said Suzanne Chester, a managing attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina, and co-counsel on the case. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.
"We are very pleased with the results for our client and her children, and we hope that this Consent Decree will serve to highlight to public housing authorities across the country their obligations to comply with VAWA and Fair Housing laws," commented co-counsel, Charles Holton, Director of Duke University's Civil Justice Clinic.
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Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Our Fair Housing Project works to eliminate housing discrimination and to ensure equal housing opportunity for all people through education, outreach, public policy initiatives, advocacy and enforcement. Since its founding in 2011, the Project has helped obtain over $6.6 million in relief for victims of discrimination. The Project is supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Fair Housing Initiatives Program. Learn more at FairHousingNC.org.
North Carolinians seeking information about their rights under the federal Fair Housing Act or who believe they are a victim of housing discrimination can call the Project's statewide toll-free helpline at 1-855-797-FAIR (3247).
The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.
Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, Legal Aid of North Carolina, 919-856-2132, firstname.lastname@example.org