JUDGE RULES TEMPORARY SUBSIDIES ARE INCLUDED IN THE DISTRICT’S PROHIBITION AGAINST SOURCE OF INCOME DISCRIMINATION

“There is no rational distinction for source-of-income purposes between short and long-term vouchers.”

Washington, D.C.– October 26th, 2018- Earlier this week, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge John Campbell ruled that the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”) prohibits housing discrimination against tenants who use temporary subsidies to offset their rent and security deposit payments. Temporary housing assistance programs are often referred to as “rapid re-housing” subsidies. These subsidies provide time-limited financial assistance to individuals and families who are living on the street or in emergency shelters. In his ruling, Judge Campbell granted the Equal Rights Center’s (“ERC”) motion for summary judgment against Belmont Crossing Apartments and Oakmont Management Group, finding Defendants liable for their discriminatory policy of refusing to rent to temporary subsidy holders.

ERC Executive Director Melvina Ford comments: “Housing discrimination has devastating consequences at any time, and it can actually be the deciding factor determining whether someone is able to escape homelessness or not. We hope that this ruling will send a clear message that discrimination against people who need to use temporary subsidies at such a vulnerable moment will not be tolerated in the District.”

Rapid rehousing subsidies are meant to move people from homelessness into housing as quickly as possible and have been one of the centerpieces of the District’s attempts to address its homelessness crisis in the last several years. In 2017, the ERC filed a lawsuit against Belmont Crossing Apartments and Oakmont Management for violating the D.C. Human Rights Act’s (“DCHRA”) source of income provisions through its discriminatory rental practices. Belmont Crossing representatives stated on multiple occasions, including to an ERC tester, that the property does not accept temporary housing subsidies. The original complaint is available here.

Judge Campbell’s ruling cites guidance issued by the D.C. Office of Human Rights (“OHR”) in 2016 stating that “short term rental subsidies” are a lawful source of income of the type contemplated by the DCHRA. Judge Campbell found that “[t]here is no rational argument . . . that the statute would explicitly include Section 8 vouchers, yet not cover other kinds of housing vouchers or housing subsidies.” Judge Campbell also ruled that vouchers, regardless of the source or duration, are to be treated as a source of income for paying rent within the meaning of the DCHRA. A copy of Judge Campbell’s order is available here.

The ERC was represented in this matter by Morrison & Foerster LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (“WLC”).

Jonathan Smith, WLC Executive Director, states: “Temporary subsidies are one critical facet of a larger strategy to address D.C.’s homelessness crisis. In order for that strategy to be effective, we must stamp out discrimination against people who rely on them. The ruling we were able to obtain in this case will make it easier to do that.”

Brian Busey, Morrison & Foerster Senior Counsel, states: “Ensuring housing access for everyone is critical to safeguarding human rights in the District of Columbia.  Judge Campbell’s ruling that temporary subsidies and short-term vouchers must be accepted as forms of rental payments and security deposits is an important step towards reducing homelessness and ensuring individuals and families are not barred from housing opportunities by discrimination.”

CONTACT

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

Gregg A. Kelley, Director of Development & Communications, Washington Lawyers’ Committee
Gregg_Kelley@washlaw.org
(202) 319-1000, ext. 155

Timothy Gallivan, Associate, Morrison & Foerster LLP
Michele Trichler, Associate, Morrison & Foerster LLP
TGallivan@mofo.com
MTrichler@mofo.com
(202) 887-1561
(202) 887-1520 

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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: 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 then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of fair housing, equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org.

ABOUT MORRISON & FOERSTER LLP: Morrison & Foerster is a global firm of exceptional credentials.  Our clients include some of the largest financial institutions, investment banks, and Fortune 100 technology and life sciences companies.  The Financial Times has named the firm to its lists of most innovative law firms in Northern America and Asia every year that it has published its Innovative Lawyers Reports in those regions.  In the past few years, Chambers USA has honored MoFo’s Bankruptcy and IP teams with Firm of the Year awards, the Corporate/M&A team with a client service award, and the firm as a whole with the Global USA Firm of the Year award.  Our lawyers are committed to achieving innovative and business-minded results for our clients, while preserving the differences that make us stronger.

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