D.C. Landlord Settles Claim of Discriminating Against People with Vouchers

The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) recently announced a settlement agreement with a privately owned development company that owns and manages multifamily properties in Washington, D.C. NFHA said that the terms of the agreement, which include adopting an affirmative nondiscrimination policy, will help expand housing options for Black, Latinx, and female-headed households with children throughout the District.

According to NFHA, its investigation reportedly found that the company used its website to deter prospects who intended to use Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers. NFHA said that when prospects visited the company’s website and tried to schedule an apartment viewing, they were required to identify whether or not they intended to use a “Section 8” voucher to pay rent, according to NFHA. If they selected “yes,” NFHA said that the system prevented them from scheduling a viewing. Allegedly, NFHA’s investigation also found that when testers called the company to inquire about viewing an apartment, the company’s owners consistently indicated that they didn’t accept vouchers.

After filing a complaint with the District’s Office of Human Rights, NFHA filed a federal lawsuit against the company. In both cases, NFHA alleged that the company discriminated against people with Housing Choice Vouchers and that the company’s practices perpetuated residential segregation and had a disparate impact based on race, color, national origin, sex, and familial status, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

NFHA says that the Housing Choice Voucher program allows participants to choose where they live; landlords that engage in unlawful discrimination against voucher holders deprive these individuals of their right to housing choice. Allegedly, they also perpetuate segregation by excluding voucher holders from low-poverty neighborhoods with high-performing schools, such as Capitol Hill, where the property that was investigated is located.

NFHA claimed that the company’s anti-voucher policy was four times as likely to result in a Black prospect being turned away than a white prospect renter, more than three times as likely to result in a Latinx prospect being turned away than a white prospect, and twice as likely to result in families with children being turned away than those without children.

As part of the settlement, the company agreed to end alleged policies and practices that discriminate on the basis of source of income, mandate fair housing training for all staff, and run ads and display signage (in both English and Spanish) stating that the company accepts housing vouchers.

“Housing in the District is already out of reach for many residents of color and families with children due to gentrification and stagnant wages. On top of that, we’re now grappling with a coronavirus pandemic that hits those in need the hardest,” Lisa Rice, NFHA’s President and CEO, said in a statement. “It’s so important, particularly now, that we remove any and all barriers to fair housing, which includes curbing the widespread practice of denying housing to those with Housing Choice Vouchers. This settlement … is an important step in the right direction, and I hope other housing providers take heed.”