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Fall 2023 Newsletter

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Breakfast Event Celebrates Fair Housing Advancements and Challenges

Our keynote speaker was John Reiman, the founder and managing partner of civil rights law firm Reiman Colfax. For more than 30 years, he has represented individual plaintiffs, cities, and civil rights organizations in many of the country’s most important civil rights cases and pioneered groundbreaking fair housing and fair lending cases that have expanded the scope and reach of the Fair Housing Act. John’s talk, titled Fair Housing at a Crossroads, set out to answer the question, “Is race discrimination really still happening?” Not surprisingly John had plenty of recent examples of the insidious ways that racism persists in the housing market. The Mark Mitshkun Board of Directors Award was presented to Courtney Atsalakis for her work in opening and operating the Amber Reineck House (more on page 2).

Visit our website at www.fhcmichigan.org/fhbreakfast for photos and a recording of the event. We raised an incredible $52,000 at our 10th Annual Fair Housing Breakfast fundraising event on October 26th. Thank you to our sponsors, donors, members, and breakfast attendees for your support and donations. This achievement is a significant step forward in making fair housing a reality in our communities.

Case Updates

Cases Settled

Amber Reineck House et al. v. City of
Howell et al.

Sober Living Home Challenge Reversed

When the City of Howell blocked Amber Reineck House – a home for women recovering from substance use issues – from opening, we contacted founder Courtney Atsalakis offering our help. People in recovery are considered disabled under fair housing law. We provided the City with many examples of similar fair housing cases decided in favor of people with disabilities, but the City would not relent.

Ms. Atsalakis decided to file a lawsuit, and the FHC Board voted to join the litigation. The lawsuit alleged that the City of Howell and two of its officials violated the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Michigan’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act by engaging in a concerted, ongoing effort to prevent Amber Reineck House from opening a sober living home in a residential neighborhood.

After three years of litigation, Amber Reineck House, Courtney Atsalakis, and the Fair Housing Center accepted $750,000 to settle the disability rights lawsuit. Ms. Atsalakis is now operating a long-term recovery home in Howell.

This settlement is the largest in FHC history and one of the largest settlements of its kind in the Midwest. We hope it sends a signal to local governments who have sought to prevent these types of homes from operating in residential neighborhoods.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by Reiman Colfax PLLC, Dane Law LLC, and Pitt, McGehee, Palmer, Bonanni & Rivers PC, on January 27, 2020. It was assigned to the Honorable Judge Paul D. Borman.

Court: Federal
Settlement: $750,000

Black v. Capitol Commons

Disability Lawsuit

Daniel Black, a man with dwarfism, has settled his lawsuit after a five-year struggle against Capitol Commons
Apartments and First Housing Corporation in Lansing. Mr. Black spent years asking his federally subsidized housing provider, Capitol Commons, to outfit his bathroom with a rollin shower to accommodate his disability. He also requested that the building install an accessible electric entrance door so that he, other seniors, and people with disabilities could freely come and go from their accessible apartments without assistance.

With no progress on his requests, Mr. Black contacted the Fair Housing Center. During the summer of 2022, FHC staff advocated extensively on his behalf. Still unable to gain reasonable accommodation, FHC Cooperating Attorney Robin Wagner of Pitt, McGehee, Palmer, Bonanni & Rivers ultimately filed a lawsuit on Mr. Black’s behalf on December 2, 2022, in U.S. Federal District Court in the Western District of Michigan. The case was assigned to the Honorable Robert J. Jonker; it settled for an undisclosed amount in October 2023, and both the accessible shower and electronic door were installed.

Court: Federal
Settlement: non-disclosed

Cases Filed

Morse v Wyndham Hill/Wilson White

Source of Income Case

Megan Morse filed a lawsuit against landlord Wilson White for refusing to rent to people who use government housing vouchers to pay rent. The Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School (CRLI) is representing Morse in what is considered to be the first lawsuit to enforce an Ann Arbor ordinance barring source of income discrimination. Ms. Morse lives with epilepsy and other disabilities making it impossible for her to earn enough money to afford rent in Ann Arbor without a housing voucher. She was denied an apartment at Arbor Hills Apartments and Wyndham Hill Apartments, both owned and managed by the Wilson White Company.

FHC testing supported Ms. Morse’s claim of discrimination based on source of income. Ms. Morse is represented by Professor Michael J. Steinberg, director of CRLI, and CRLI student attorneys Rebecca Lowy, Lauren Yu, and Elyse O’Neill. Filed on April 19, 2023, in Washtenaw County Circuit Court the case is assigned to the Honorable Timothy P. Connors.

Source of Income Protection Information

14 cities in Michigan provide protection against source of income discrimination, including Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Jackson, Lansing, and Ypsilanti.

Michigan Senate Bills 205, 206, and 207 propose to add source of income protection in housing for all Michiganders (with some restrictions). The bills have passed out of the Senate and are now waiting for a vote in the House of Representatives.

Stay tuned for updates on our email newsletter and social media.

Together, we can fight housing discrimination and WIN.

While apartments sit open, black and brown people are told that nothing is available to rent—often with a smile and a handshake. People who use wheelchairs are routinely denied simple accommodations, like a parking space near the entrance of their apartment, or a curb cut. Families are denied housing solely because they have children. Women continue to suffer from sexual harassment by unscrupulous landlords.

Only with your financial support can we fully investigate these fair housing violations and open the door to available housing. We need your help to enforce this deeply important civil rights law.

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Justice for People with Disabilities

Reasonable Accommodations

The FHC resolves at least a dozen of reasonable accommodation and modification requests each year. If you would like a full report of resolved disability cases, please email info@fhcmichigan.org

Housing Choice Voucher Protection

A young couple and their five children received a first-time housing choice voucher. Due to the extreme shortage of affordable housing in their area and factors related to COVID-19, they were unable to place their voucher within the initial 90-day period or during the 30-day extension period. The couple has a toddler who was born prematurely and has a permanently collapsed lung. The child requires oxygen around the clock. When the couple contacted the FHC, they had been told by their Section 8 worker that their voucher had been terminated for failure to place it in time. FHC staff wrote a letter to the Section 8 worker at the local housing commission and, as a result, she resumed working with the family to try to secure the home they originally wanted before their voucher expired. Ultimately, the landlord of that property wanted more money than the housing voucher covered, so the family lost the home, and their Section 8 worker stopped working with them again.

FHC staff wrote a second letter to the housing commission asking again for a reasonable accommodation to extend the family’s period to place the voucher due to their son’s disability. The housing commission director called the FHC staff and stated that they had decided not only to continue to allow the family adequate time to place their housing voucher but that the housing commission would no longer terminate vouchers for failing to place them within a designated period.

A blind man with a Section 8 voucher contacted the FHC regarding ongoing issues he was having with his upstairs neighbors. One of the major issues was the neighbors’ persistent smoking which violated the lease agreement and was not being enforced by the landlord. The smoke wafting into his apartment exacerbated the symptoms of his disability, but management was unwilling to take any action.He had been trying to use his voucher at a different unit for almost a year when he was finally notified that he was at the top of the waitlist. He then found out that the rent was too high for his voucher to pay for it. FHC staff intervened and wrote a letter to the Section 8 provider asking for a reasonable accommodation based on the complainant’s disability to increase the payment standard for his voucher. The Section 8 provider granted the reasonable accommodation and increased the complainant’s voucher amount so he could move to the new, safer unit.

Rent Due Date Change

A man contacted the FHC after management at his apartment complex refused to allow him to pay rent on the 5th of the month due to his Social Security disability check not arriving until after the first of the month. In addition, the man is legally blind and management had recently imposed a requirement that all residents pay rent via the online portal, which he could not do. FHC staff wrote a letter to the landlord requesting that he be permitted to pay his rent by paper check through the mail and also to allow him to pay rent by the 5th of the month to keep late fees from continuing to accrue. The landlord’s attorney would only grant a partial reasonable accommodation, allowing him to pay by paper check, but refused to allow him to pay his rent by the 5th of the month, alleging that it was an “economic accommodation” and therefore not covered by the FHA.

The FHC consulted with a cooperating attorney who wrote an additional letter to the landlord, citing updated case law that clearly refuted the opposing attorney’s argument that the reasonable accommodation was economic and not based on the man’s disability. The opposing attorney finally conceded and adjusted his rent due date accordingly.

A woman with a physical disability received her Social Security disability income on the second Wednesday of every month. She contacted the FHC after new management began issuing her eviction notices due to her payment schedule. FHC staff sent a reasonable accommodation letter to the company’s lawyer requesting that her payment schedule be modified and that the eviction proceedings be dismissed. After two days, the lawyer agreed to change the rent payment schedule, alter the terms of her new lease to accommodate the change, and dismiss the eviction proceedings.

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