Fair Housing Project

Catherine Cone Staff Attorney
Brook Hill Equal Justice Works Fellow
Amal Mimish Paralegal


Established in the mid-1970s, the Fair Housing Project addresses denials of equal housing opportunity based on race, national origin, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability, source of income, familial status (children under the age of 18), and other classes protected under federal, state, and local fair housing laws. From its inception, the Project has been at the forefront of some of the most significant cases involving race and national origin discrimination, including cases involving racial violence and organized hate groups.

Group photo of the Knights of St. John

Over the years, the Project’s work has expanded into new and emerging areas, including predatory lending, redlining, discriminatory real estate advertising, insurance discrimination, exclusionary zoning and other discriminatory practices by municipalities, discrimination against families with children, and discrimination against low-income families who use housing subsidies. The Project has brought a number of high-profile cases against multi-family housing developers that have failed to design and construct properties in accordance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In many of its cases, the Project has represented the Equal Rights Center in the ERC’s ground-breaking efforts to utilize paired testers to investigate allegations of discrimination.

With the assistance of law firms and members of the private bar working pro bono, the Project has achieved landmark precedents and monetary verdicts, and it has increased housing and economic opportunities for thousands of people of color, women, people with disabilities, Housing Choice Voucher holders, and members of other protected groups.

Sarah Bourbeau

The Committee's Fair Housing Project currently has a very active docket of cases pending in federal and state courts within the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Most recently, the Project has partnered with ONE DC in their work organizing tenants at subsidized properties transitioning to market rate.

 

Predatory Lending

Hargraves, et al. v. Capital City Mortgage Corp., et al.
CASE NO. 98-1021 (U.S. DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)

With co-counsel Relman & Dane and Baach Robinson & Lewis, the Fair Housing Project represented a group of individual plaintiffs and a church that had been victimized by the predatory lending practices of a Washington, D.C., area mortgage company. The court’s decision in this case was the first in the nation to recognize that “reverse redlining,” the practice of targeting minority neighborhoods with fraudulent, deceptive, and predatory loans, is covered under the Fair Housing Act.

Accessible Housing for People with Disabilities

The Equal Rights Center, et al. v. Archstone Smith Trust, et al.
CASE NO. 04-3975 (U.S. DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF MARYLAND)

With co-counsel Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC, the Fair Housing Project represented The Equal Rights Center, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the United Spinal Association in a precedent-setting case involving discrimination against people with disabilities based on the failure to design and construct multifamily housing to be accessible to people with disabilities in properties across the nation. The historic settlement involved the remedial retrofitting of thousands of units in 71 properties nationwide and was the first settlement involving the remediation of inaccessible housing units of such magnitude. The developer also agreed to pay $1.4 million in damages and attorneys’ fees and costs, as well as affirmative marketing, education and training of its employees, and a commitment to have all properties constructed within a three-year period of the consent decree inspected for compliance with the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

Discrimination on the Basis of Source of Income

Sarah Bourbeau, et al. v. The Jonathan Woodner Co.
CASE NO. 1:07-CV-00164 (U.S. DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)

With co-counsel K&L Gates LLP, the Fair Housing Project represented the Equal Rights Center and a D.C. resident who was denied an opportunity to pay for an apartment using a housing voucher. The court rejected the argument that the D.C. Source of Income Discrimination provision as it relates to Housing Choice Vouchers is preempted by federal law, which is the first such opinion in federal court in the District. The parties reached a settlement agreement that included $200,000 in monetary relief and attorneys’ fees and costs, as well as an agreement that the Woodner company would not discriminate against people who use vouchers in its 450 apartments in the District of Columbia.

Harassment that Creates a Hostile Living Environment

Deborah Reeves, et al. v. Carrollsburg Condominium Unit Owners Association, et al.
CASE NO. 96-2495 (U.S. DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)

With co-counsel Covington & Burling LLP, the Fair Housing Project obtained a settlement of $650,000 on behalf of Ms. Reeves, an African-American woman, and the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington, Inc. (FHC), in a suit against Defendants Carrollsburg Condominium Unit Owners Association (Association) and Thomas G. Schongalla, a white resident in the complex. Ms. Reeves alleged that Mr. Schongalla subjected her to racial and sexual harassment, including repeatedly yelling racist and sexist epithets at Ms. Reeves, blocking her use of common areas, physically intimidating her and threatening to rape, lynch, and kill her, and that the Association tolerated this hostile environment.

Insurance Discrimination

National Fair Housing Alliance, Inc., et al. v. The Prudential Insurance Company of America
CASE NO. 1:01-CV-02199 (U.S. DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)

The Fair Housing Project, with assistance by co-counsel Gilbert LLP, Relman & Dane PLLC, and Cooper & Walinski LPA, successfully represented several national and local fair housing organizations from different parts of the country and three African-American individuals who claimed that Prudential’s underwriting policies had the intent and effect of discriminating against minority homeowners and residents of minority neighborhoods, including a general policy of not providing insurance to the entire District of Columbia and charging different rates based on geographic locations, which correlated to race. The district court’s opinion strongly establishes the application of the Fair Housing Act to discriminatory insurance practices.

Discrimination in the Provision of Municipal Services

Kennedy et al., v. City of Zanesville, et al.
CASE NO. 2:03-CV-1047 (U.S. DISTRICT COURT, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO)

With co-counsel Relman & Dane and Jones Day, the Fair Housing Project represented sixty-seven individuals in a case that resulted in a federal jury award totaling nearly $11 million against a city, county, and water authority in rural Ohio for illegally denying water service to the single predominantly African-American community in the virtually all-white county on the basis of race.  Residents testified about their hardships caused by the lack of water services, which included hauling water to their homes, using water from cisterns that was made foul by animals falling into the cisterns, and collecting snow for water during the winter, and having to use outhouses while their white neighbors could water their lawns.  For fifty years, they were repeatedly denied water services, although the water lines were repeatedly extended all around them.  This jury verdict is one of the largest fair housing jury verdicts ever.

Discrimination on the Basis of National Origin

2922 Sherman Avenue Tenants’ Association, et al. v. District of Columbia
CASE NO. 00-0862 (U.S. DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)

On November 30, 2006, the Fair Housing Project, with co-counsel Relman & Dane PLLC and Tycko Zavareei & Spiva, announced a $700,000 settlement with the District of Columbia in a civil rights lawsuit filed by twenty-four tenants of the Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. The settlement resolves the tenants’ claims that in early 2000, District officials targeted apartment buildings for closure and threatened or forced tenants to evacuate because the residents in this neighborhood are disproportionately Latino.

Discrimination on Basis of Familial Status

Carrie Timus, et al.  v. William Davis, Inc.
CASE NO. 91-CV-0882 (U.S. DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)

Carrie J. Timus, a mother of two, was turned down twice for rental apartments managed by William J. Davis Inc. in Washington, D.C.  In both instances, she was told that children were not welcome in the properties she wished to rent. She filed suit under the Fair Housing Act, alleging discrimination based on familial status. Surveys by the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington showed a pattern of discrimination against families by the company, which managed 275 apartment buildings in the area.  With co-counsel WilmerHale LLP, the Fair Housing Project tried the case before a federal jury, which awarded Ms. Timus and the Fair Housing Council $2.4 million.  The award was the largest in the country at that time for familial status discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

Discrimination in Advertising

Spann, et al. v. Colonial Village, Inc., et al.
CASE NO. 88-7257 (U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT)

With co-counsel Miller, Cassidy, Larroca, & Lewin LLP, the Fair Housing Project brought a landmark case on behalf of two fair housing organizations and an individual African-American resident of the District challenging real estate advertisement campaigns that indicated a racial preference by featuring exclusively white models.  The D.C. Circuit’s opinion in this case sets forth the Circuit’s first statement on organizational standing requirements under the Fair Housing Act.  After trial, the jury returned a substantial verdict of $850,000 in favor of plaintiffs.

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