For Immediate Release:
Ashley White, Equal Rights Center, 202.370.3204
EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER FILES SUIT AGAINST NATIONAL APARTMENT LEASING CALL CENTER, LEVEL ONE, INC., FOR DISCRIMINATION AGAINST VOUCHER HOLDERS
Leasing company representing thousands of apartments refuses housing choice vouchers in D.C.
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 23, 2012: Today the Equal Rights Center (ERC)—a national non-profit civil rights organization—filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Level One, Inc., a national apartment leasing call center, alleging that it violated the D.C. Human Rights Act by engaging in discrimination on the basis of “source of income.”
According to the ERC’s complaint, Level One served as a leasing agent for Sarbin Towers, an apartment complex located at 3132 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. In three separate tests conducted by the ERC, Level One representatives told testers that Housing Choice Vouchers were not accepted at the property. Two of the testers were also told by Level One that no other properties that it represented accepted vouchers. Last October, the actual owner of Sarbin Towers, Carmel Partners, Inc., worked collaboratively with the ERC to ensure that vouchers were being accepted at all of its properties in the District.
“Representing thousands of apartment units across the U.S., Level One and its policies and practices of telling voucher holders that their vouchers will not be accepted prevent low-income families from moving into better neighborhoods,” said Don Kahl, Executive Director of the ERC. “We hope that, in addition to recognizing that its actions violate established law in the District of Columbia, Level One will come to agree that opening doors to voucher holders makes good business sense for it, and for the many landlords it represents all across the country.”
The federal Housing Choice Voucher Program provides vital support to low-income families by allowing them to move to safe and affordable housing anywhere in their region, so long as the rent is within an approved range. In 2011, the D.C. Housing Authority reported that 10,596 families in the District were being served by the Housing Choice Voucher Program, with nearly 35,000 more on a waitlist. Voucher holders unable to secure an apartment because of discrimination lose their vouchers and must reapply to be added to the end of the waitlist—relegating them to unsafe or overcrowded housing, a shelter, or the streets.
“Although federal law does not address source of income discrimination, the District has long recognized the importance of protecting voucher holders from discrimination. Refusing to rent to voucher holders in the District is a violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act,” said Megan K. Whyte, Director of the Fair Housing Project for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “As a national corporation, Level One is subject to the state and local laws for every jurisdiction where it works, and it should ensure that its policies and practices meet the applicable legal requirements.”
Since 2004, the ERC has investigated source of income discrimination by housing providers in the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. In 2005, the ERC published its first report documenting a 61% rate of discrimination against voucher holders in the District. Subsequently, the ERC reached agreements with more than 20 landlords and property managers, opening more than 15,000 apartment units in the District to voucher holders.
In 2010, the ERC again looked at source of income discrimination in the District and found that, while improved, a 45% rate of discrimination still existed against voucher holders. The ERC released a report of its new findings in 2011, and negotiated agreements with another five District housing providers, ensuring that more than 2,500 additional apartment units became available to voucher holders. The lawsuit against Level One derives from this investigation.
The ERC is represented in this matter by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Foley & Lardner, LLP.
Click here to read the ERC’s 2011 report, “Still in Search of Decent Housing: A Five Year Reflection on Discrimination Against Housing Choice Voucher Holders in the District of Columbia.“
About the Equal Rights Center (www.equalrightscenter.org)
Originally formed in 1983, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) is a national non-profit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C. With members located in every state and the District of Columbia, the ERC works nationally to promote equal opportunity in housing, employment, disability rights, immigrant rights, and access to public accommodations and government services for all protected classes under federal, state, and local laws.
About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (www.washlaw.org/)
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since its founding, the Committee has handled more than 5,000 cases on behalf of individuals and advocacy organizations in the areas of equal employment, fair housing, public accommodations, public education, asylum and refugee rights, and disability rights.