Village forms commission on housing discrimination

Trustees weigh options in bringing legal action against landlords

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Park village trustees are rallying the efforts of various citizen commissions on housing, discrimination and the disabled to find solutions to a recently released report indicating inequities in Oak Park's rental housing market.

The village board voted Tuesday to establish an ad-hoc commission made up of the chairmen and board trustee liaisons of the village's Housing Programs Advisory Committee, Community Relations Commission and Disability Access Commission to study and provide recommendations. The trustee liaisons are Colette Lueck, Glenn Brewer and Bob Tucker.

Formation of the commission is in response to a report released earlier this month by the non-profit HOPE Fair Housing Center, showing discrimination against African Americans and those with hearing disabilities looking to rent in Oak Park.

The report was commissioned by the village last year at the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Oak Park is a recipient of HUD's community development block grant program, which distributes $1.5 million annually to the village. The block grant program requires the village to show that it is "taking steps to affirmatively further fair housing options" in Oak Park, Tammie Grossman, the village's director of development customer services, told trustees at Tuesday's board meeting.

"I think we're positioned in a good way for our continued HUD funding and also to address issues that we may not have been aware of had we not done the testing," Grossman said.

Trustee Adam Salzman said the various commissions can debate the policies on training and education but noted that the village does not have "an adequate mechanism for enforcing violations" of discrimination law.

"When you have violations of federal and local law, you need to have an enforcement mechanism with teeth," Salzman said. "I think what we have is delinquent property owners who are making decisions to break the law because they believe it is in their economic interest; the only way to communicate that it's not in their economic interest is to make them incur some serious legal fees."

Trustee Brewer said any future plan in dealing with housing discrimination must include enforcement of discrimination law.

"For those who have violated the law there needs to be more than just a slap on the wrist," he said.

Brewer noted, however, that when discrimination does occur the village would not be in a place to take action "because we are not the aggrieved" party.

Salzman suggested that the village could potentially take action against those in violation through the village human rights ordinance, which prohibits such discrimination.

"We should have a prosecutor and go after these folks," he said.

Ann Houghtaling, executive director of HOPE, told trustees that her organization could bring legal action against companies, which remain unnamed, identified in their paired testing. She said that such language was inserted into its contract with the village. She said it is not uncommon for municipalities to contract for the testing and then not take action to correct the discriminatory practices.

"I'm pleased the village did undertake this," she said. "I'm also pleased with the (village's public) response."

Village President Anan Abu-Taleb said the various village government housing programs and organizations also should be held accountable for allowing discriminatory rental practices from happening in the first place. He suggested that someone at village hall "should get fired" because of the abysmal results in the HOPE report.

"I would like to know," he asked Grossman, "and you don't have to name names for me – if you say by tomorrow, 'Fire the person in our village that should be accountable for this,' do you have somebody in mind? And if you don't why don't you?"

He said there needs to be accountability on the topic and that the ad-hoc committee "should investigate the housing organizations."

"This is what really bothers me is having six different housing agencies that I have a difficult time remembering all of their names; it makes it really difficult to hold somebody accountable," he said.

Contact: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

19 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Bill D  

Posted: February 23rd, 2014 12:16 PM

If the village does opt to "name names," officials better think long and hard about Pavicek's contention that "all complaints the village has received were investigated and (determined to be) unfounded." They'd be well advised to be cautious about making public allegations against specific property owners based on what appears to be a poorly conducted survey.

Confused  

Posted: February 23rd, 2014 10:28 AM

The Hope Fair Housing Center said they found discrimination during testing. Village Manager Cara Pavlicek told the Village Board all complaints the village has received were investigated and unfounded. Someone needs to provide backup documentation to their claim. It seems odd that none of the complaints were legitimate. How are these complaints being documented and investigated? Where are the reports? Tammie Grossman, Cedric Melton and Cara Pavlicek have some explaining to do.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 10:27 PM

The village has not been assertively enforcing its Human Rights Laws properly for at least the last ten years. I know because I was chairperson of the Community Relations Commission in 2008 and 2009. When I became chairperson I found out that one of the commission responsibilities was Human Rights as described in Village Code 13-2-4. That is; the commission could be called upon to hold discrimination hearings and participate in the adjudication the case. After discussions with the Director of Community Relations and current and ex commission, I found that there had not been a hearing in years. The adjudication was beyond the skills of the commission. In the CRC 2009 Work Plan, the commission did not list responsibilities under 13-2-4. In my letter of 12-28-08, I advised the board that "The CRC has not had a hearing in at least the last seven years. There is no member of the commission that has participated in a hearing, no commission member that has received training on conducting a hearing, and the CRC does not have the requisite two members who are lawyers. If a discrimination case was referred the CRC for a hearing , our abillity to adjudicate such a matter would likely be questioned." Responsibilities under 13-2-4 did not appear in the 2009 CRC Work Plan that was approved by the board. To my knowledge, it has not been included in the 2010-2014 CRC Work Plans. There are a myriad of reasons why we allowed housing discrimination to occur including massive cuts in the Community Relation budget. Perhaps the lack of discrimination enforcement could be blamed on the CRC, but it cannot be a put solely on its back. There is no question that many others on staff, partners and amongst board members were aware of the deficiency. No one stood up and said, "Are we enforcing discrimination laws properly." The next step is must begin by looking forward, not backwards. We need a blue ribbon committee to lead the effort to restore the village's pri

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 7:50 PM

I agree with Trustee Peter Barber that names should be named, as I think it's unfair to the landlords and property managers, who are following the rules, be lumped together with those who aren't. In addition, naming names would elevate the accountibiliy of HOPE, to stand behind its accusations.

Daniel Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 7:10 PM

I was going to write that "It is patently absurd for the OP Village President to say that somebody should be fired for the discriminatory practices of these landlords" until I realized that OP's elected leadership and much of its top staff have subjected maintaining racial integration and affirmatively furthering fair housing to "benign neglect." Village leadership needs to engage experts on fair housing enforcement and allow them to be honest with the village, something not presently practiced.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 5:04 PM

Bridgett - It might be unfair but until the violators are revealed, it is still possible that government marketing agents (OPRHC, OPHA, etc.) are involved.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 4:25 PM

@Ray, my "blatant disregard" comment was not about the housing agencies. It was about the landlords and property management companies, the offenders in the HOPE report. I re-read my comment and I see that I was unclear, as I tacked on one thought to another rather than start a new sentence (too focused on my 500 character limit). I apologize.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 12:10 PM

Thanks Speedway - I think you are on the mark. The post now makes sense.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 12:09 PM

Ray - The link from discrimination to the village housing partners and the housing entities within the village structure is the board difficulty in identifying what organization(s) had responsibility for Discrimination Enforcement. Until we all understand exactly how enforcement was overlooked, the two issues are twins.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 11:29 AM

I am guessing here. NFP = not for profit.

OP Transplant  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 11:07 AM

My concern is, HOPE's job is to find housing discrimination, not to congratulate property owners for doing right. They send people in to mislead the rental companies. If you're looking for discrimination and you're willing to lie to find it, you may not be using the fairest process.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 11:01 AM

I'm not at all sure how we went from housing discrimination examples to Village funded housing agencies blatantly disregarding local and federal law. I have yet to see the list of the building owners who were tested. I'm not disputing discrimination has happened. In fact, I'm not surprised by the results of the report (and several other Trustee's said the same). However, until such time as there is evidence presented of a widespread issue with one of the locally or federally funded agencies, calls for firing or blanket statements that these agencies don't follow the law are imprudent. I want further testing and a focused effort go forward, believe we have talented citizen commissions who can take on this work and guide next steps, all in partnership with a good number of citizens experienced in this topic who can help us ferret out those who are not following the spirit and intent of all laws.

John Murtagh from Oak Park   

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 10:25 AM

Elephant - What is a NFP? Interesting post but without knowing what a NFP is, it is pretty meaningless. Thanks

Elephants Memory from Oak Park  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 9:11 AM

How many times over the years have we heard about the great work a certain NFP has been doing in this area, in support of their continued funding? On the other hand, they can only work with the people who walk in their front door, so I imagine statistics don't tell the whole story.

Jim Bowman  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 6:57 AM

Gail Moran: If you got an email from me, I've been hacked. Yr not among my contacts. As for conspiracy and firing people, you have lost me. Sorry.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: February 22nd, 2014 1:22 AM

@Chuck, I had similar thoughts as you regarding the forming of a committee. But after watching the Village Board meeting and listening to the discussion, I think understand the Board's action. The committee will be looking in to the systemic issue of why we have six agencies, supported by tax-payer money, addressing housing issues, and yet have blatant disregard for both Federal and municipal laws in regards to fair housing.

Chuck from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: February 21st, 2014 9:45 PM

This sounds like my job. There's a problem? Form a committee! I hope the commission does some good though...I guess it's better than doing nothing and ignoring the survey results.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 21st, 2014 9:12 PM

Gail Moran - The village attorney stated that one judicial path is available to the village is the Human Rights Code. The code is adjudicated by the Community Relations Department and Board. The CRC has had no discrimination cases that reached the CRC Commission in the last decade. The Village not having enough resources to monitor every private rental situation is a poor excuse. First; the survey showed it did not have to examine every rental situation; Second, it appears that no one was looking for discrimination. Why else would the board, staff, housing department, Housing Center, etc. find the survey results to be an amazing surprise. There are a lot of questions to be answered on how the board, staff, and partners were so unaware and irresponsible. If you believe in Human Rights, you have to believe in enforcement.

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 21st, 2014 8:25 PM

Got a strange email from Jim Bowman on this issue. Having been a volunteer for a Fair Housing Center in Toledo, OH, exactly what Jim thinks is conspiracy by village government is exactly how these non- profits find out if there is non- compliance. But blaming village government and suggesting someone get fired is just silly - the Village does not have the resources to monitor every private rental situation - that's why they did this audit.

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