FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 17, 2021

ERC AND LOCAL RENTER FILE FEDERAL LAWSUIT ALLEGING SOURCE OF INCOME AND RACE DISCRIMINATION AT NORTHWEST DC APARTMENT BUILDING

Washington, D.C., — June 17, 2021 — Today, the Equal Rights Center (ERC), 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, D.C. and nationwide, and a local renter, who uses a Housing Choice Voucher to pay her rent, filed suit in United States District Court for the District of Columbia to challenge Vaughan Place Apartments’ unlawful refusals to accept vouchers as a source of income to pay the rent. A policy or practice of refusing to accept Vouchers is more than six times as likely to adversely impact Black renters as compared to white renters. The conduct of Defendants Capital Properties, LLC, Capital Properties Services, LLC, and Vaughan McLean, LLC constitutes unlawful discrimination in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), the DC Human Rights Act (DCHRA), and the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCCPPA).

In February 2020, the prospective renter involved in this suit reported to the ERC that, when she inquired about renting an apartment at Vaughan Place in the Cathedral Heights neighborhood, she was told that they do not accept Vouchers. Ultimately, due to the discrimination she faced at Vaughan Place, she was forced to rent a smaller apartment with fewer amenities in a different neighborhood that did not meet as many of her needs. The ERC conducted civil rights testing at Vaughan Place, which confirmed the individual’s allegations. For several months, the ERC redirected its efforts and unsuccessfully attempted to counteract the harmful effects of Defendants’ discrimination by engaging in counseling, advocacy, and education and outreach.

“Housing discrimination has devastating consequences for consumers who experience it and leads to ongoing segregation in our communities,” said ERC Executive Director Kate Scott. “Today we’re taking action in the hopes of holding Vaughan Place Apartments accountable for the harm they’ve caused,” she added.

Mirela Missova, Counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, noted: “It has long been the law of the District of Columbia that landlords cannot discriminate against persons who use vouchers to pay all or a part of their rent. This protection is essential to fight the twin injustices of racial and economic segregation. This case, yet again, seeks to affirm that right.”

Housing Choice Vouchers are critically important government subsidies that enable low-income renters to offset their rent with a subsidy. Vouchers enable renters to secure housing outside of areas of concentrated poverty and in areas that may offer greater access to jobs and better resourced schools, as is the case in the District of Columbia. In the midst of DC’s affordable housing crisis, Housing Choice Vouchers play an important role in expanding housing choice, reducing residential segregation, and ensuring low-income renters can afford safe and decent housing, so long as housing providers are willing to accept them.

Vouchers are a protected source of income under the DCHRA. In the District, a refusal to accept Housing Choice Vouchers also likely constitutes race discrimination under the DCHRA and FHA because a policy of refusing to rent to Voucher holders has a disparate impact based on race. Black households comprise less than half of the total renter households in the District (only 46%), even though nearly all Voucher recipients in the District are Black residents (93%). In contrast, a little over one third of renter households in the District are white (36%), but virtually no Voucher holders are white (approximately 1%). Refusing to accept Vouchers is more than six times as likely to adversely impact Black renters as compared to white renters. Finally, the complaint alleges that Defendants’ refusal to accept Vouchers is an improper and deceptive trade practice in violation of the DCCPPA.

“Housing Choice Vouchers play such an important role in offering low income renters more opportunities to secure better housing and to access better jobs and better resourced schools,” said Paul Hastings partner Michael Spafford. “The Voucher program, however, is stymied and rendered ineffective by the kind of discrimination that occurred here, where eligible renters were illegally prevented from securing quality housing based on their race and source of income. This lawsuit seeks to correct that injustice.”

The ERC and an individual plaintiff are represented in this matter by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Paul Hastings LLP.

The full complaint is available here.

CONTACTS:

Kate Scott, Executive Director
Equal Rights Center
kscott@equalrightscenter.org, (202) 370-3220

Gregg Kelley, Director of Development & Communications
Washington Lawyers’ Committee
gregg_kelley@washlaw.org, (202) 319-10170

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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 THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: Founded in 1968, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org or call 202.319.1000. Follow us on Twitter at @WashLaw4CR.

ABOUT PAUL HASTINGS: Paul Hastings is a leading global law firm with a strong presence throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the U.S. We have been ranked among the top firms on The American Lawyer’s A-List of the most successful firms nine years in a row. The firm’s pro bono initiative draws upon the expertise of our attorneys to secure favorable outcomes in numerous practice areas, including civil liberties, housing rights, immigration and asylum, and environmental protection. In 2018, The American Lawyer ranked Paul Hastings among the top 10 pro bono firms in the country. Drawing on the firm’s dynamic, collaborative, and entrepreneurial culture, our lawyers work across practices, offices, and borders to provide innovative, seamless legal counsel—where and when our clients need us.

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