HOPE Fair Housing Center has filed administrative complaints against six property management companies in Oak Park, alleging the businesses discriminated against minorities attempting to rent apartments in 2013.
The complaint was filed with the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, HOPE Executive Director Anne Houghtaling said in a telephone interview.
Houghtaling said the six complaints include one involving discrimination based on race, one against a hearing-impaired applicant and four so-called reasonable accommodation request denials of applicants with a disability.
She said there are a number of additional cases of "more subtle cases of discrimination" that did not immediately merit filing an administrative complaint with HUD.
Houghtaling said HOPE plans to address the companies involved in the more subtle cases directly to make them aware of their infractions.
Glenn Brewer, who serves as chairman of a task force set up by the village of Oak Park to address the issue, said in a telephone interview that HOPE has not revealed the names of the property management companies who are alleged to be in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.
The village hired HOPE in 2013 to conduct the tests of rental housing agencies to determine whether African Americans and those with hearing disabilities were discriminated against.
The report, released in February, states that more than twice as many white applicants were shown apartments, compared to their African-American counterparts. African Americans also had fewer return phone calls by apartment management companies and were given less information about rental units.
Hearing-impaired applicants were hung up on multiple times by apartment management companies and given differences in the availability of units, according to the report.
Houghtaling said HOPE filed the six complaints in July.
"I believe that as part of HUD's process they will attempt to mediate some sort of settlement," Brewer said.
Houghtaling said the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act could either take place through an administrative enforcement process through the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) or through federal court.
"If [FHEO] finds probable cause [for discrimination], they can issue a charge of discrimination against the respondent or the housing provider," Houghtaling said. "Then, of course, that charge can go a couple of different paths — it can stay within the administrative process at HUD or any party can elect to go to federal court."
She said the whole process can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year and a half.
The race complaint filed with HUD involved two paired tests where an African-American applicant called a housing provider several times before receiving a call back, while their white counterpart received a call back on the first try. In the second test, the African American was told by a rental agent that an apartment was rented and nothing would available for six months, while the white applicant was told an apartment was available.
She said one of the reasonable accommodation complaints included a disabled applicant with a service dog who was told that the apartment does not allow dogs unless the applicant absolutely needed the dog and could not "use anything else, such as a cane."
"It's not within the landlord's realm to decide what is the best device to use for someone who is visually impaired," Houghtaling said.
She said some of the potential violators were not the subject of an administrative complaint because, in some cases, it could not be determined if the rental housing providers were discriminating or just practicing bad customer service, such as not returning phone calls.
Houghtaling said HOPE intends to make the companies aware that they were close to being in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
She said they intend to tell the companies "that you need to keep an eye on what you are doing and what your agents are doing and make sure you're providing good customer service and treating customers equally."
HOPE is not releasing the names of those companies they consider to be in violation because "there is an opportunity to potentially reach a resolution that corrects the problems."
"And so if that's possible, I think at that point then the housing provider and HOPE could jointly release a statement about the resolution, and it gives the housing provider the opportunity to do the right thing, get their house in order and then go public," she said.
Brewer added that "because of the publicity surrounding the testing, they would like to contact the housing providers and talk to them one on one privately and let them know what took place in a non-adversarial atmosphere to reach some resolution."
He said that the village task force is on schedule to issue a set of findings and recommendations to the village board in October.
The next meeting of the taskforce is at the Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., at 7 p.m. on Aug. 13.
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