By Melvina Ford, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Center

As the stories of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rant against African Americans attending his team’s games continue to dominate headlines coast to coast, the real story for civil rights advocates is not what he said on the tape, but how he has treated the thousands of tenants and applicants looking for a decent place to live in one of his properties over the last 30 years.

According to Forbes, Sterling has a current net worth of roughly $1.9 billion, the primary sources of which being his ownership of the LA Clippers organization, and the other being the thousands of apartments he purchased primarily in Southern California over the past several decades.

In his keynote address at the 13th Annual D.C. Fair Housing yesterday—co-hosted by the Equal Rights Center—Mayor Vincent Gray alluded to Sterling’s recent comments, but provided context to show how incidents such as this remain as a part of a pattern of deeply entrenched, institutional discriminatory treatment against many populations.

In 2003, Sterling was sued by the Housing Rights Center in LA and multiple tenants. The complaint alleged that Sterling stated he didn’t want to rent to Latinos because, “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building”, and “black tenants smell and attract vermin.” According to a sworn affidavit submitted by one of his managers, Sterling stated that he preferred Korean-American tenants, because he believed they would “live in whatever conditions he gives them and still pay the rent without complaint.”

Sterling has denied all of these allegations, but according to court documents, a judge ordered Sterling to pay nearly $5 million in attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs after the case was dismissed in a confidential settlement.

Apparently, having not learned his lesson, Sterling was sued again in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Justice. This suit alleged that Sterling and his agents had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination based on race, national origin and familial status by: refusing to rent to non-Koreans and African Americans, refusing to rent to families with children, creating an hostile environment and providing inferior treatment to non-Koreans, misrepresenting the availability of units to African Americans and families with children, and advertising to express a preference for Koreans and discrimination against African Americans.

Three years later, without admitting liability, Sterling settled the case for just over $2.7 million.

At a time when Americans are being told that laws against discrimination are no longer necessary, Sterling’s history of discriminatory behavior should serve as a reminder that much more work needs to be done to ensure that all Americans have equal opportunity in housing, and the ERC believes that the work already being done and the responses of a number of organizations and corporations to this incident deserve recognition:

  • Kudos to the National Basketball Association for taking the decisive action to ban Donald Sterling from the NBA for life.
  • Kudos to the corporations that took a stand by ending their sponsorships of Sterling’s team, including Virgin America, CarMax, State Farm, Kia and Adidas.
  • Kudos to the Housing Rights Center in Los Angeles, who in the midst of the media frenzy, continues to serve the most vulnerable among us just looking for a decent place to call home.
  • Kudos to the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for proposing a new rule that would make clear that entities that choose to seek federal taxpayer funds for housing and community development projects have an obligation to protect fair housing and expand opportunity for all.
  • And Kudos to all of the real estate professionals out there — the builders, the developers, the lenders, the agents, and the property managers, who serve as a model for Fair Housing in the housing industry, many of them members of the ERC’s Multifamily Housing Resource Program: AvalonBay, The Bozzuto Group, Camden property Trust, Donatelli Developments, Gables Residential, The JBG Companies, Kettler, Lerner Enterprises, Mill Creek Residential Trust, Paradigm, Trammell Crow Residential, Washington Property Company, Watermark Residential, and Woodfield Investments.

To all of you, we say thank you for leading the way.

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