Ed Murray, Mayor
7/22/2002 4:29:00 PM
Elliott Bronstein (206) 684-4507
Hearing Examiner awards record amount
in Section 8 discrimination case
A City of Seattle Hearing Examiner has awarded nearly $8,000 to a Seattle resident who had accused her landlord of discrimination. The decision upheld a finding by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights from June 2001. The case concerned property owners who pressured their tenant to move out of a leased rental house because the owners no longer wished to participate in the Section 8 voucher program.
The award included $6,151 for extra housing costs incurred by tenant Rhonda Mitchell due to the discrimination, $250 in moving costs, $1,000 for loss of Ms. Mitchell's right to be free from discrimination, and $500 for humiliation and suffering. This is the largest amount ever awarded by Seattle's Hearing Examiner involving an SOCR determination that discrimination had occurred.
In September 1999 property owners Hook Shik Song and Young Song renewed their Section 8 contract with the Seattle Housing Authority, which administers the program locally. Section 8 is a federal program that subsidizes low-income people's rents through a voucher or certificate.
Shortly after renewing their contract, the landlords began pressuring Rhonda Mitchell to vacate the rental house, because they wished to rent it for more money. After enduring numerous phone calls, Ms. Mitchell and her two children finally moved out of the house.
Ms. Mitchell filed a discrimination complaint with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) in January 2000. When the Songs refused to negotiate a settlement after SOCR found probable cause for discrimination, SOCR referred the case to the City Attorney's Office.
"Everybody deserves the chance to live in decent housing, and the Section 8 program makes that possible by providing guaranteed payments to property owners," said Barbara Osinski, SOCR’s Enforcement Manager. "To discriminate against people simply because they are using this federal program is wrong – and in Seattle it's also been illegal since 1989."
The City of Seattle and King County are among just a handful of jurisdictions nationwide that include "Use of a Section 8 certificate" as a protected class in cases involving housing discrimination.
Under Seattle's and King County's ordinances, property managers can refuse to participate in the Section 8 program if they can show a valid business necessity, such as rents that exceed the program's guidelines. Landlords who participate agree to allow inspection of their property and to make the necessary repairs. In return, housing providers know they will receive steady rent payments through the program.
"Landlords are entitled to claim valid business reasons for refusing to take Section 8 tenants," said Osinski. "But it is not enough to say that cooperating with the Section 8 program will impose an undue burden on their business, without showing how the program will hurt them."
"This is the second time this year that the Hearing Examiner has awarded $1,000 as compensation for a renter's loss of civil rights. We are pleased that the Hearing Examiner recognizes that being discriminated against is harmful in and of itself," said Osinski.
The Seattle Office for Civil Rights investigates cases of alleged discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and contracting. For more information call (206) 684-4500, or find SOCR on the Web at http://www.cityofseattle.net/civilrights/
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