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Disability, race lead NC fair housing claims. Experts say discrimination is under-counted

Charlotte Observer - 12/27/2019

Dec. 27--CHARLOTTE -- Discrimination based on disability and race led fair housing complaints last year, according to a new report from Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Residents filed 154 fair housing complaints in 2018, according Legal Aid's Fair Housing Project. Mecklenburg County, the state's most populous, had the most complaints with 32.

The Fair Housing Act protects prohibits discrimination based the race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability of a person trying to rent or buy. Among the report's findings:

* Durham County had the highest rate of complaints per year since 2000, with 9.8 complaints for every 100,000 people. Mecklenburg had 3.5 complaints per 100,000 people.

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Disability overtook race as the most common discrimination claim during the 2014-2018 period, matching national trends.

* The total number of complaints decreased by 27% in the 2014-2018 five-year period compared with the previous five years.

Still, experts say, housing discrimination occurs far more frequently than it's reported.

Residents who believe they have experienced housing discrimination may not report because they are unaware of their rights or the complaint process or fear retaliation, said Jeffrey Dillman, managing attorney at the Fair Housing Project.

"While this report outlines data we think is very concerning for our state, we know its just a small fraction of the problem," he said. Federal research has found only 1% of people who believe they experienced discrimination reported it to a government agency.

Protections have expanded since The Fair Housing Act passed in 1968. Lawmakers added sex discrimination in 1974. Disability, now the leading complaint category, was added in 1988 along with familial status.

Dillman credited increased public education and outreach on disability issues, meaning more people are aware of their rights and may pursue claims.

In addition to refusing to rent or sell to a person with disabilities, Dillman said, discrimination could include forbidding a service animal in a pet-free building or refusing to provide a reserved parking spot.

A group of Charlotte affordable housing advocates recently announced a campaign to add "source of income" to the city's fair housing ordinance. It would prohibit landlords from denying potential tenants solely because they pay with housing vouchers or other subsidies such as veteran benefits, disability payments or child support.

If City Council amends the ordinance, Charlotte would be the first city in North Carolina to have source of income protections.

Residents who believe they have experienced housing discrimination can call the Fair Housing Project at 855-797-3247.

This work was made possible in part by grant funding from Report for America/GroundTruth Project and the Foundation For The Carolinas.

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