Suffolk Law to Expand Housing Discrimination Program through $275K in HUD Grants

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Three Recent Cases Settled with Fines and Fair Housing Training

Not only are we seeing results for Boston-area residents facing discrimination, but we also are providing valuable, on-the-ground training for future lawyers and instilling in them a sense of social justice

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced two grants totaling $275,000 for Suffolk University Law School’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program, which recently saw settlements in three cases resulting from its work.

The program, launched in September 2012 in collaboration with HUD and the Boston Fair Housing Commission, will receive:

  • $175,000 to build its capacity to enforce fair housing laws through testing, education and litigation
  • $100,000 to offer course work in fair housing, host a national fair housing conference at Suffolk University Law School and create a Fair Housing Fellowship Program, placing students in internships relating to fair housing

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and the Boston Fair Housing Commission in September 2013 settled three enforcement actions stemming from the Law School’s efforts to uncover housing discrimination:

  • A brokerage firm denied service to a Suffolk tester said to have a disability, and the Attorney General’s Office imposed a $2,500 fine, required a written reasonable accommodation policy and filed an Assurance of Discontinuance with Suffolk Superior Court
  • Suffolk sent testers to an apartment building to determine if families with children were being discouraged from renting because of a property manager’s unwillingness to test for and remove lead paint. The collected evidence led to a settlement through which the management agency agreed to pay $15,000, obtain training for leasing staff and inspect the property for lead paint
  • A real estate agent’s refusal to show an apartment to a Suffolk tester who said a housing voucher would cover part of the rent resulted in a settlement requiring staff to receive fair housing training, put fair housing language in postings and display fair housing posters in all offices

“Not only are we seeing results for Boston-area residents facing discrimination, but we also are providing valuable, on-the-ground training for future lawyers and instilling in them a sense of social justice,” said program director William Berman, a clinical professor of law.

“Professor William Berman and Housing Clinic Fellow Jamie Langowski are extraordinarily dedicated to promoting the right to fair housing in Boston, and I congratulate them for securing these grants to continue the clinic’s much-needed and highly effective effort,” said Suffolk Law School Dean Camille Nelson.

Barbara Fields, HUD New England regional administrator, added, “No one should be denied the opportunity to live where they want because of how they look, their faith, whether they have children or because they have a disability. This grant will help us continue our efforts to educate the public and housing industry about their housing rights and responsibilities.”

Suffolk Law School’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program has trained more than 70 fair housing testers, who pose as potential renters. Most of these testers are students, and they have conducted more than 70 fair housing tests in the past year. As the academic year began, more than 40 additional students signed on to be testers.

The first year of the program was funded by a $150,000 HUD grant that expanded an existing collaboration between Suffolk Law and the Boston Fair Housing Commission. It allowed for systemic testing focused on LGBT, disability, source of income and familial status issues as well as complaint-based testing that supports state and local Fair Housing Assistance Programs.

Suffolk University Law School, located in the heart of Boston, is dedicated to welcoming students from all backgrounds and circumstances and educating them to become highly skilled and ethical lawyers who are well-prepared to serve in their local communities, across the nation and around the world. Suffolk Law has strong day and evening divisions. Its curriculum includes specialty concentrations, joint-degree programs and LLM offerings. A wide range of nationally ranked clinical and legal practice skills programs complement internships and moot court competitions that provide students with experiential opportunities. Suffolk University is comprised of the Law School, College of Arts and Sciences and Sawyer Business School.

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Greg Gatlin

Mariellen Norris