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Sharon Lewis and Tyrone Tillison have accepted $32,500 to settle a race discrimination suit against Williamsburg Village Apartments in Lyon Township, Michigan.
In April, 1995 Lewis, a white woman, contacted Fair Housing Center Cooperating Attorney Michael J. Steinberg about her housing discrimination claim. Steinberg referred the case to the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County for investigation. Lewis planned to share the apartment with Tillison, her African American boyfriend and their five-year-old son Phillip.
On the day Lewis moved in (Tillison was to join her ten days later), according to the law suit: manager Elizabeth Bell asked Lewis what nationality her “husband” was. When Lewis asked why, Elizabeth Bell responded that Lewis’ son Phillip was “kind of dark.” Lewis told Bell that her boyfriend (Phillip’s father) was Black. Elizabeth Bell then told Lewis that Phillip’s father could not live at Williamsburg Village Apartments and that there were no Blacks in the area. Bell then told Lewis that only two people were allowed in a two-bedroom apartment.
A few months later Lewis received a letter from owner Richard Perry threatening to evict the Lewis/Tillison family unless Tyrone Tillison moved out. Testing conducted by the Fair Housing Center supported Lewis’ claim of discrimination based on race. White testers were told about available two bedroom apartments while African-American testers were told that no two bedroom units were open.
Michael J. Steinberg filed suit on behalf of Lewis in U.S. District Court. The suit alleged violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act and Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The case was assigned to Judge Denise Page Hood. Total FHC-Washtenaw aided settlements now exceed $270,000.
The Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County and Margaret Fairchild (formerly Margaret Shannon), settled their law suit against Camelot Apartments in Ypsilanti Township for $36,500. Fairchild, who accepted $15,000, told the FHC she was very pleased with the settlement. “I didn’t care about the money, just wanted them to learn that they can’t treat people like they treated me.” The settlement also included $2,500 (plus interest) for the Fair Housing Center and $19,000 in attorneys fees.
Fairchild contacted the FHC in April 1993 to report that she was denied a one-bedroom apartment and told that state law requires a child to have his or her own bedroom. At the time Fairchild was a single parent with one child and could not afford a two bed room apartment.
The Camelot Apartments application contained the printed statement: “one person or one couple per bedroom.” Testing conducted by the Fair Housing Center supported the claim of discrimination against families with children.
According to the suit, Camelot Apartments denied Fairchild and her then four-year-old son the opportunity to rent a one bedroom apartment and also “made, printed and published notices and statements with respect to the rental of the dwelling that indicate preference, limitations and discrimination based on familial status.”
Fairchild and the FHC were represented by Fair Housing Center Cooperating Attorneys Sarah J. Stitt and Steve Dane of Cooper, Walinski & Cramer. Filed in Federal Court, the case was assigned to Judge George La Platta.
This is the first time the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County has joined a fair housing suit. The 1982 Supreme Court decision in Havens Realty Corp. v. Cole man upheld the right of fair housing organizations to sue under the Federal Fair Housing Act.
Carol Pryor, a woman with a disability, contacted the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County to report that she needed a second hand rail installed on the stairs in her Woodland Meadows townhouse. When the landlord failed to provide the rail, Pryor asked to be let out her lease. According to Pryor, Woodland Meadows said she could break her lease. Pryor told FHC staff that she was later billed for over $3,000. Cooperating Attorney Tinamarie Pappas of Rose, Weber and Pappas filed the case in Washtenaw County Circuit Court. The case is assigned to Judge Timothy P. Connors.
Alissa Schwabb rents a condominium at Pattengill Condominiums in Ann Arbor. Schwabb went to the City of Ann Arbor Human Rights Department to report harassment and an eviction based on familial status. Schwabb lives with her three children ages eight, eleven, and thirteen. The Ann Arbor Human Rights Department staff conducted an investigation and referred the case 10 the Fair Housing Center.
Cooperating Attorney Richard McHugh and co-counsel Michael Gatti, from Legal Services of Southeastern Michigan are defending Schwabb in the eviction proceedings and have filed a counterclaim in Washtenaw County Circuit Court alleging violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The complex is managed by Charles Reinhart Company. Schwabb is suing Reinhart along with the Pattengill Condominium Association Board President, a Board member and a resident. The eviction case and the fair housing claim have been consolidated and are assigned to Judge William Shelton.
When the Ku Klux Klan announced they were coming lo Ann Arbor on June 22, 1996, the FHC asked community members lo pledge money to civil rights organizations for every minute the Klan had a presence at City Hall. The longer the Klan stayed the more money would go to support civil rights.
At the rate of over $82 per minute we raised over $2,800. Many of you generously sent in more money than originally pledged. The funds went to support the Ann Arbor Community Center, NAACP and the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County.
When the next hate group comes to town we’ll need more than The Pledge. The Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice is organizing toward a creative, community-wide response to racism. For more information call ICPJ at 663-1870.
Intern Linda Willis answers the phone at the FHC office. Linda worked with FHC staff over the summer and is now back in school working on a Masters degree in Social Work at the University of Michigan.