Group Says Apartments Discriminated Against Those Receiving Homeless Subsidies

WASHINGTON (CN) – A civil rights group claims in court an apartment complex in southeast Washington, DC refused to lease apartments to people who tried paying parts of their rent and security deposits with temporary subsidies for those who are homeless or living in shelters.

The Equal Rights Center says in a complaint filed on Wednesday in Washington, DC Superior Court that Sanford Capital and Oakmont Management, which operate the Belmont Crossing Apartments in southeast Washington, told callers who posed as potential tenants that they could not use federal or local subsidies to cover parts of their rents, specifically one set aside for low-income veterans.

The Equal Rights Center says a tester told an employee at Belmont Crossing in an October phone call that she wanted to use the Services for Veteran Families Rapid Rehousing Assistance subsidy to help cover her rent, only to find out that the apartment complex did not accept short-term subsidies, according to the complaint.

The employee reiterated the company’s position when the tester repeated her question, according to the 21-page complaint.

The SSVF subsidy is a federal program administered through nonprofit groups that is meant to help low-income veterans and their families afford housing. The Equal Rights Center first learned about Belmont Crossing’s alleged refusal to honor the subsidy from  Housing Counseling Services, an organization that administers the program in Washington, according to the complaint.

“Discriminating against recipients of temporary subsidies, like SSVF, subjects an already vulnerable population of homeless individuals to a set of even more devastating circumstances,” Equal Rights Center Executive Director Melvina Ford said in a statement. “Yet it is one of the most common complaints that we hear from individuals and housing counselors in the District. By filing this action, we hope to put more housing providers on notice that this type of discrimination is illegal and will not be tolerated.”

The Equal Rights Center says Belmont Crossing’s alleged refusal to lease to people using such subsidies has forced the group to divert scare dollars towards investigations and consulting with people who were denied the use of their subsidies, according to the complaint.

“Defendants’ pattern of discrimination has made the ERC’s mission of ensuring that all individuals (regardless of source of income) have equal access to housing in the District of Columbia more difficult,” the complaint states.

The Equal Rights Center is represented by G. Brian Busey, an attorney at the Washington firm Morrison Foerster, and Jonathan Smith of the Washington Layers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

The complaint seeks an order directing Belmont Crossing Apartments, Sanford Capital and Oakmont Management Group to reverse the policy of not accepting temporary subsidies. The center also asks for monetary and punitive damages to be determined at trial.

Multiple attempts to reach both Belmont Crossing Apartments and Sanford Capital by phone were unsuccessful, with the calls cutting out before being able to leave messages with either company.

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