September 7, 2022
Equal Rights Center & Greystar Strike Impactful Agreement to Address Fair Housing Concerns in Virginia
Today, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) and GREP Atlantic, LLC (Greystar) announced they have entered into a groundbreaking collaboration agreement in which Greystar will proactively address fair housing concerns raised by the ERC following a civil rights testing investigation.
In response the ERC’s outreach, Greystar quickly expressed an interest in working with the ERC to ensure compliance with fair housing requirements and best practices in Virginia and to serve as an industry leader for other housing providers seeking to comply with Virginia’s fair housing laws. The agreement covers all Greystar-managed properties in Virginia and as a result of today’s agreement, which will last for at least five years, Greystar will:
- Require prospective tenants with vouchers to meet minimum income requirements based only on their portion of the rent and prohibit the application of minimum income requirements in instances where a voucher covers the entire monthly rent;
- Prohibit consideration of a prospective renter’s credit score if such renter’s Housing Choice Voucher covers the entirety of monthly rent;
- Affirm its non-discrimination policy and distribute a statement about the policy to all relevant employees;
- Modify signage at properties to include the following statement: “In accord with state and local law, the community accepts Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) and other forms of publicly-funded rental assistance.” in English and Spanish;
- Engage the ERC to provide fair housing training for its leasing agents and property management staff twice annually for the duration of the agreement;
- Undergo twenty compliance tests over the course of the agreement to evaluate compliance with fair housing requirements by Greystar leasing and real estate management staff;
- Engage in affirmative marketing to voucher holders;
- Designate at least one employee at each of its Virginia properties as a Housing Choice Voucher liaison to coordinate with the local housing authority and answer voucher holding applicants’ housing inquiries; and
- Provide a lease agreement or hold open a unit for which a voucher holder is approved by property management staff while the public housing authority completes the lease up process.
Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs), formerly known as “Section 8”, are government subsidies that enable low-income renters to rent homes in the private market. The largest rental assistance program in the country, HCVs can play a key role in promoting neighborhood integration—if landlords accept them. In 2020, Virginia added “source of funds” as a protected class under its state fair housing law, meaning that it became illegal for most landlords to discriminate against potential tenants because they are using an HCV to pay the rent. In 2021, the Virginia Real Estate Board released a guidance document clarifying that if landlords wish to require a minimum income requirement screening tool, they must only apply the requirement to a voucher holder’s portion of the rent, not the total rent. Because eligibility for the voucher program is based on having a low income, inappropriately applied minimum income requirements make it nearly impossible for any voucher holder to submit a successful application.
The ERC found in its investigation that some Greystar-managed properties turned away some tenants using vouchers to pay their rent, primarily by applying minimum income requirements that resulted in some voucher holders not qualifying for tenancy. Minimum income requirements for voucher holders are not allowed under Virginia’s “source of funds” law, as was made clear by recent guidance from the Virginia Real Estate Board. In addition to raising concerns about potential source of funds discrimination, the ERC pointed out that it had concerns that the actions could create a disparate impact on the basis of race since a disproportionate number of voucher holders are African American in all five jurisdictions in northern Virginia where the ERC conducted testing. Without challenging ERC’s conclusions, Greystar began discussions with ERC in accordance with Greystar’s commitment to comply with the new Virginia law.
ERC’s Executive Director Kate Scott remarks, “Discrimination against community members who use subsidies to pay their rents and the racially disparate impact of such discrimination is one of the most important fair housing issues of our time. In our work, we regularly witness how unfair minimum income requirements screen voucher holders out from good housing opportunities. We applaud Greystar for showing leadership by entering into today’s agreement to resolve the concerns our testing uncovered, and hope that other landlords throughout the region will follow their example.”
The ERC was represented in this matter by Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC. Partner Matthew Handley commented, “Through this agreement, Greystar and the ERC have sent a message to the Virginia real estate industry about the policies and practices necessary to ensure that members of our communities who use housing vouchers are welcome in Virginia. Greystar should be commended for setting this standard, and the rest of the industry should take note and implement similar changes immediately.”
ABOUT THE EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org.
ABOUT HANDLEY FARRAH & ANDERSON: Handley Farah & Anderson are lawyers who seek to improve the world. Based in Washington, D.C., they fight for: workers deprived of wages, consumers deceived about products, tenants denied access to housing, farmers mistreated by processors, parents deprived of adequate parental leave, investors who were defrauded, small businesses harmed by antitrust violations, persons with disabilities denied access, whistleblowers who uncover fraud, and women and communities of color subject to discrimination.