Do you know the City of Shaker Heights runs one of the oldest Fair Housing Assistance Programs (FHAPs) in the United States? It’s true and that’s good news for Shaker residents.
“This sends a clear message that discrimination in housing will not be tolerated in Shaker Heights,” says Assistant Law Director Lisa Gold-Scott, who oversees the City’s Fair Housing Office under the direction of Law Director and Fair Housing Administrator William Gruber.
We asked Gold-Scott to help us understand more about fair housing and the City’s Fair Housing Office.
What is fair housing?
“Fair housing relates to civil rights in housing,” says Gold-Scott. “It means that your choice in housing should not be restricted based on your membership in a protected class.”
The federal Fair Housing Act has seven protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. The State of Ohio includes ancestry and military status, and Shaker’s ordinances additionally protect sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
How can I know if my rights are violated?
While outright discrimination does still occur, discriminatory housing practices are not always so obvious. “For example, a family might be told a building doesn’t allow anyone under age 25,” explains Gold-Scott. “But with a few exceptions, multi-family buildings must consider applications from all qualified applicants, regardless of whether there are children. Property owners may not discriminate based on family status.”
Landlords must also provide reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, whether physical or mental, explains Gold-Scott, “unless the owner can show that the accommodation would be an undue burden or fundamentally alter the nature of their housing provisions.”
How can the City’s Fair Housing Office help?
The City’s Fair Housing Office receives funds directly from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to “investigate potential violations and to conduct education and outreach activities,” says Gold-Scott.
Testing is frequently used to analyze whether the landlord’s actions were motivated at least in part by someone’s protected class. The investigation will continue to see if discrimination is the culprit. Throughout the investigation, staff will attempt to conciliate the matter. If conciliation is unsuccessful, and the investigation shows that it is likely that discrimination occurred, the Fair Housing Review Board will hold a hearing to determine whether the housing provider engaged in discriminatory housing practices.
“People are encouraged to call 216-491-1440 with questions if they are unsure as to their rights – and that includes housing providers and rental property managers as well,” adds Gold-Scott. “Our office is here as a resource for Shaker residents and potential residents.”
Learn more at shakeronline.com/fair-housing
Originally published in Shaker Life, Spring 2020.