Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) announced Tuesday that it has filed five lawsuits against several large-scale Erie County landlords and management companies for alleged discrimination based on income.
The lawsuits were filed on Jan. 27, according to HOME Associate Director Daniel Corbitt, and are the first cases to be filed under Erie County’s 2018 Fair Housing Law. That legislation made it illegal to discriminate against tenants planning to pay rent with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers or Department of Social Services Security Deposit Agreements.
“This type of discrimination—denying someone a decent place to live because they have a Section 8 Voucher or a security deposit agreement from Erie County—only serves to reinforce the legacy of segregation in our community and further concentrate poverty in particular neighborhoods throughout our county,” said M. DeAnna Eason, executive director of HOME.
Over the course of multiple investigations that led to the lawsuits, Eason said HOME found that landlords in Buffalo and elsewhere in Erie County often use income discrimination as a proxy for other factors like race and familial status.
“We have found that landlords will post advertisements for apartments that read, ‘No Section 8,’ but what they are really saying is ‘No single mothers. No immigrants. No families of color.’”
One woman who shared her story at Tuesday’s press conference and did not give her name for fear of retaliation from her current landlord had such an experience.
“I don’t want nobody else to go through what I had to go through,” she said. “I have two small children and I went to look for housing and I was basically denied an application to even apply for housing just because I was asked, ‘Do you have a child under six?’ and my source of income.”
Corbitt applauded her for reporting the incident to HOME and encouraged others to do the same. He also read a list of the defendants named in the lawsuits.
“Garden Village Apartments, it’s a property owner, Glendale Development, LLC, is a property manager, Dasa Properties, LLC, Peace Bridge Apartments, Buffalo Housing Associates, they’re the property owner and Wingate Management Company is the manager, Glendale Development, another management company, and Windwood Place Apartments is the final owner.”
Eason said some of the defendants had been trained by HOME within the past year on Erie County Fair Housing Law, leading her to conclude that “some housing providers just do not care” about the laws regulating their business.
“In my opinion, there’s intent to deny housing,” Eason said. “There’s intent to discriminate here and say, ‘We don’t want you here because of this,’ and that’s unlawful.”
Eason also said the defendants represent some of the worst perpetrators of income discrimination in the county but “only a small fraction” of the landlords and property managers who practice it.
Corbitt said the defendants could face fines ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 if found guilty, and that HOME won’t stop advocating for victims of housing discrimination until all of the landlords are brought into compliance.
“The unlawful conduct of these defendants has directly contributed to our region’s shameful status as one of the most segregated and unequal places in the country.”