For Immediate Release:
Ashley White, Equal Rights Center, 202.370.3204
EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER FILES SUIT AGAINST PROPERTY OWNERS AND MANAGERS FOR DISCRIMINATION AGAINST VOUCHER HOLDERS
Civil Rights Testing Uncovers Illegal Refusals to Rent to Housing Choice Voucher Holders
WASHINGTON, D.C., January 11, 2012 Today the Equal Rights Center (ERC)—a national non-profit civil rights organization—filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Superior Court against Inder Raj Pahwa and Rita Pahwa, alleging that they violated the D.C. Human Rights Act by engaging in discrimination on the basis of source of income.
“For more than two decades the D.C. Human Rights Act has protected voucher holders from discrimination, yet this case is just another example of the prejudices that continue to strip low-income families and people with disabilities of their ability to move into better neighborhoods,” said Don Kahl, Executive Director of the ERC. “For the past eight years, the Equal Rights Center has been helping property owners and managers comply with the law to ensure that people who rely on Housing Choice Vouchers are provided access to safe and affordable housing. We hope the Defendants will realize that, in addition to their obligation to comply with D.C. law, opening their doors to the many voucher holders in need of a new and safe home makes good business sense.”
According to the Complaint, Defendant Inder Raj Pahwa, an engineer with the D.C. Water & Sewer Authority and a Commissioner on the D.C. Taxicab Commission, owns and manages rental units at 717-719 Irving St. NE, Washington, D.C. and 722-724 Hamlin St. NE, Washington, D.C. Defendant Rita Pahwa owns rental units at 717-719 Irving St. NE, Washington, D.C. In tests conducted by the ERC to investigate source of income discrimination, Inder Raj Pahwa told testers that he would not accept vouchers at any of his properties and that he did not believe in vouchers.
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 go to the end of the waitlist—relegating them to unsafe or overcrowded housing, a shelter, or the streets.
“The outright refusal to rent to voucher holders is a blatant form of source of income discrimination that happens far too often in the District, where the law has clearly prohibited this type of discrimination for decades,” said Megan K. Whyte, Director of the Fair Housing Project for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Whether due to a lack of knowledge, or an unsubstantiated prejudice, denying voucher holders an equal opportunity to rent an apartment is a violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act.”
Since 2004, the ERC has investigated housing providers in the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to measure compliance with source of income protections. In 2005, the ERC published its first report documenting a 61% rate of discrimination against voucher holders in the District. Based on this investigation, the ERC reached more than 20 agreements with landlords and property managers, ultimately opening more than 15,000 apartment units to voucher holders. In 2010, the ERC undertook a second study to determine if compliance had improved, and found a 45% rate of discrimination against voucher holders in the District. As a result of this testing investigation, the ERC released a report in 2011 and has reached agreements with another five District housing providers, ensuring that more than 2,500 more apartment units are open to voucher holders. The lawsuit against the Pahwas derives from the 2010 investigation.
“While the ERC’s two investigations show some progress, the levels of discrimination based on source of income in the District are still unconscionably high, due in no small part to the stereotypes and illegal actions like those that required the ERC to file suit against Inder and Rita Pawha,” Kahl said.
The ERC is represented in this matter by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs and Dechert LLP.
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&rsquo 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.