City Conference Looks to End Unfair Housing Practices in Austin

Apr 24, 2013

The City of Austin investigates about a hundred claims every year of so-called “unfair housing.” That’s when people are denied a place to live based on their race, disability or other factors.

The City of Austin and the Texas Workforce Commission held a conference yesterday in an effort to prevent that.

Ann Howard is with the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.  She says Austin landlords often turn down people who are transitioning out of homelessness and low-income families who are receiving federal grants.

“Our clients don’t have access to housing,” Howard said. “They can’t get in because of income discrimination where people say, like, ‘How are you going to pay? Where are you getting your money? Oh, I don’t want you.’ And that’s a problem.”

A survey from the Austin Tenants’ Council in 2011 found that of the 78, 217 in the Austin area apartments surveyed, only 8,590 were willing to accept applicants on the voucher program.

Morgan Morrison, the study’s author, told KUT News that many landlords refuse to accept vouchers or ask that the vouchers guarantee up to 3 times an apartment unit’s full rent, which often disqualifies voucher recipients.

Enrique Serrano works for the City of Austin Equal Employment and Fair Housing Authority, investigating unfair housing practices. He said that the complaints he receives allege landlords of violating the Fair Housing Act, discriminating against a housing applicant based on age, race, sex, marital status and oftentimes disability.

“There have been steady complaints that have trickled in,” Serrano said. “One of the primary bases that people file complaints under is disability.”

Serrano said that claims of disability discrimination are not limited to accessibility issues for people in wheelchairs, but often involve landlords restricting use of therapy animals like a seeing eye dog and rejecting those with mental disabilities, as well.

Serrano said that of the hundred or so complaints his office receives every year, about 10 percent go to court. He urged those who believe they may be victims of unfair housing practices to visit the city’s website and file a claim.