Merlene Davis: Fair Housing Council celebrates 20 years, but its work still continues

Herald-Leader columnistApril 5, 2014 

Arthur Crosby is executive director of the Lexington Fair Housing Council.

  • Fair Housing and Diversity Training in Lexington

    When: 1-4 p.m., April 30

    Where: Ramada Inn, 2143 North Broadway

    Cost: Free

    Registration: Online at Lexingtonfairhousing.com, or contact Arthur Crosby at (866) 438-8617 or (859) 971-8067; or email crosbylfhc@hotmail.com.

A landlord in Calloway County refused to allow a woman to apply for his rental property because he learned she had a domestic violence protection order against another individual. The landlord said the situation would bring danger to his neighborhood. His refusal was a violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Fair Housing Act.

In Barren County, a landlord required tenants who used service animals to pay a pet deposit, a violation of the state Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act and the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

And in Jefferson County, a landlord refused to rent to a black tenant because the last black tenant he rented to "left a bad taste" in his mouth. That was a Fair Housing violation.

Those are examples of cases the Lexington Fair Housing Council had to file complaints about and seek legal remedies for last year.

The council, celebrating its 20th year in service, is the only private non-profit fair housing agency in Kentucky. Anyone who has experienced housing discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability can have his or her complaint investigated by the council free of charge.

Because of local fairness laws in Lexington, Covington, Vicco, Frankfort, Morehead and Louisville, the council will also investigate housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in those cities. Complaints are investigated and, if necessary, filed with the state or local Human Rights Commission for a determination.

Arthur Crosby, executive director of the Fair Housing Council, said most issues don't get to that level, however. Most are mediated.

"A lot of the times it's about the landlord who won't fix what he is supposed to," he said. "We tell them to call code enforcement, or we may send something to the landlord in writing."

And sometimes, Crosby said, just by talking with the caller for a while, members of this staff will discover other problems that are more serious. Instead of a hole in the floor, the problem could be sexual harassment.

But, more often than not, he said, his job falls in the realm of explaining to tenants why they really are not being discriminated against. Complaints regarding disabilities top all others.

"People almost always think of race, but we get more disability complaints," he said. "People are living longer and having more health issues."

The council has six employees, including Crosby, who is the only attorney on staff. The small staff fields complaints from all over Kentucky and they also offer testing services so real estate brokers, owners, builders and insurance agents can be reassured their agents are complying with the law.

Plus, the council holds seminars to explain the laws to the general public as well as landlords, real estate professionals and associations.

"We work well with the Apartment Association," he said. "Those places have got it all figured out."

The council was incorporated in 1994 by Galen Martin, former head of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and longtime civil rights activist, who also founded the Kentucky Fair Housing Council in Louisville. The Lexington office opened in 1995, funded by a federal grant from Housing and Urban Development.

It lost its federal funding in 1997 but reopened in 1999 shortly before former Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac was named the executive director.

The Louisville-based Kentucky Fair Housing Council closed in 2007, leaving only the Lexington office to shoulder the weight of fighting housing discrimination throughout the state.

The council fields about 1,000 calls a year and about 100 will result in an investigation, Crosby said. Only about 40 cases reach the point of filing a complaint.

The council will celebrate its 20th anniversary on April 9 by honoring some of the people who have been committed to fair play. And, because April is Fair Housing Month, the council will host a free Fair Housing and Diversity Training session in Lexington on April 30.

The work of the council is far from complete.

Lexington officials still have not authorized a dedicated funding source to help residents find much-needed safe and affordable house. Crosby said he would favor that move.

"We believe, based on the phone calls we receive, there is a huge gap in what people need," Crosby said. And there is still a need for housing providers to be better informed about fair housing laws, he said.

"When people discriminate, it messes with the free market," Crosby said. "If you want free markets to work correctly, you have to make sure discrimination is not happening."

If you are having problems with housing discrimination, call (866) 438-8617 or (859) 971-8067

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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