Newsletter: Housing Discrimination is Illegal
The District’s severe affordable housing crisis means many vulnerable residents must rely on housing assistance to afford a place to live. Despite strong civil rights protections in the District, a recent study showed that 15 percent of DC-area landlords still discriminate against renters who use vouchers to pay their rent. During last summer’s civil rights listening sessions, community members affirmed that housing discrimination is one of their top civil rights concerns. OAG’s new Civil Rights Section, established in 2019 with support of the D.C. Council, has taken action to stop housing discrimination in the District and has notched significant legal wins.
- Major settlement in source-of-income discrimination case: Earlier this month, OAG secured its largest civil rights settlement ever against Curtis Investment Group, requiring the landlord to pay $900,000 for source-of-income discrimination. OAG alleged Curtis violated the law by posting discriminatory online housing ads that included language such as “not accepting any vouchers or rapid rehousing.”
- Court rules against discriminatory landlord: In OAG’s case against local landlord Evolve LLC, a judge ruled last week that the company broke the law by refusing to rent or show apartments to housing voucher recipients. Now, the court will decide what penalties, costs, and other measures it will impose on Evolve.
OAG also recently filed suit against three real estate companies, including DARO Management Services, for source-of-income discrimination. This major D.C. landlord is responsible for nearly 1,000 apartments and is alleged to have unlawfully targeted housing voucher recipients with added fees, rejected rapid rehousing applicants, subverted DC's rent control laws, and more. Landlords should be on notice that housing discrimination is illegal and our office will not tolerate those who discriminate.
In addition to bringing ant-discrimination lawsuits, OAG worked with Apartments.com and Zillow to filter out discriminatory ads on their platforms. OAG also introduced the “Civil Rights Enforcement Clarification Amendment Act of 2019” to expand the office’s authority to investigate discriminatory practices, recover penalties, and seek relief for victims. Sadly, that legislation has been stalled in Councilmember Brandon Todd’s Committee on Government Operations for more than one year. We urge passage of the bill.
Report discrimination of any kind to OAG at 202-727-3400 or OAGCivilRights@dc.gov. You can also file a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights.
Karl A. Racine
Empowering Young People
AG Racine believes it is important to empower the District’s young people and amplify their voices on issues that impact their lives. There are two upcoming opportunities for young District residents to make their perspectives and ideas heard on important local issues:
- Apply for OAG’s High School Advisory Council: OAG is now accepting applications for its 2020 High School Advisory Council, a paid program where students analyze real world problems, build their decision-making skills, and discuss policy recommendations with the Attorney General. All District high school students—DCPS, public charter and private—are welcome to apply for this competitive program. Learn more about HSAC and apply to be part of the 2020 cohort.
- Submit your Do the Write Thing essay: OAG is sponsoring the District’s fourth year participating in the Do the Write Thing Challenge, a national essay contest that allows students to examine how violence affects them and propose solutions on how to stop it. All essayists—along with their school principals, teachers, and family—will be invited to a recognition celebration in April 2020. OAG is accepting essays through March 13, 2020. Learn more about Do the Write Thing Challenge and register and submit an essay.
Email OAGCommunity@dc.gov with any questions.
Interrupting Violence With Restorative Justice
Last week, members of OAG’s Cure the Streets (CTS) violence interruption program were honored with certificates from Youth and Families in Crisis for participating in Restorative Justice (RJ) training. RJ empowers victims of crime to express how they were affected through mediation. RJ requires offenders to accept responsibility and practice accountability while working to repair the harm they cause. Many CTS workers completed a 40-hour training on Restorative Justice and are using it in their work to mediate conflicts and restore relationships in neighborhoods that have been harmed by gun violence. Learn more about OAG’s Cure the Streets and Restorative Justice programs.
Holding Slumlords Accountable
Last week, local landlord Mehrdad Valibeigi was arrested for violating a court-ordered agreement to repair his neglected properties. OAG sued Valibeigi in 2019 for neglecting his properties and endangering residents. However, after Valibeigi failed to make payments for repairs to a designated Court-appointed third-party in charge of the properties, he was held in contempt. Learn about yourrights as a tenant and browse our free resources.
Stopping Teen Violence
“I have never seen government come out into the community and elevate the voices of youth for an issue they are suffering through.” - Community member at OAG’s Teen Dating Violence Summit
According to a recent D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education report, 10 percent of District students experience dating violence. To teach DC students about consent and healthy relationships, OAG hosted #RelationshipGoals, a Teen Dating Violence Summit. During the Summit, District students were taught about the signs of emotional, physical, and cyber abuse, and received tools to make smart decisions for their safety. Local community-based organizations engaged students with the resources to make healthy choices and get help if they need it. To request an OAG training on consent and healthy relationships, contact OAGCommunity@dc.gov.
Win: Life-Saving Solution to Opioid Crisis
Good news last week as a federal judge cleared the way for Safehouse, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, to open a "safe injection site” where high-risk users can consume opioids and receive immediate medical care in the event of an overdose. Last year, in opposition to Trump administration efforts, AG Racine led 8 Attorneys General in supporting the right of states to enact public health policies to combat the opioid crisis and save lives. The District ranks third among states with the highest rate of opioid overdoses. States are on the front lines of the opioid crisis and must have the flexibility to tailor solutions like safe injection sites that can save lives.
Consumer Alert: Beware Coronavirus Scams
As public health concerns grow about coronavirus (COVID-19), scammers may try to take advantage of consumers. Scams could include selling products that are ineffective at preventing the disease and spreading misinformation through social media and other channels. Other scammers may be pretending to solicit donations to help coronavirus victims, but instead are stealing consumers’ money and personal information. Learn four tips to protect yourself from these scams.
Protecting Our Immigrant Community
AG Racine joined Dreamers, local immigration advocates, and WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi at a broadcast community forum to discuss how young people and families are being harmed by the Trump administration's immigration policies. As a panelist, AG Racine spoke about OAG’s work to protect DACA, keep families together, fight the public charge rule, and more. Residents can reach out to OAG for help if they face illegal discrimination, have wages stolen by an employer, are denied safe housing conditions by a slumlord, are scammed by a business or more. OAG will not ask about immigration status. You can contact OAG at (202) 727-3400 or email@example.com.
Standing Up for Seniors
Two former SunTrust Bank employees pled guilty to elder financial exploitation following a joint investigation and prosecution by OAG and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Former employees Rashad Liverpool and Robert Tillery frequently visited the victim—a 72-year-old client of SunTrust Bank with diminished capacity—after normal business hours and against bank policy to scam her out of over $80,000. The defendants must pay restitution and will be sentenced on April 28, 2020. This is the latest success in OAG’s increased efforts to protect District seniors from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. If you suspect a senior is the victim of abuse, contact OAG at (202) 727-3400 or ElderAbuse@dc.gov.
Celebrating Black History
This Black History Month, AG Racine participated in a panel discussion about the life of Harriet Tubman at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church and her courageous fight against injustice. OAG also hosted an expert panel featuring Derek Musgrove, Associate Professor of History at University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Dr. Samir Meghelli, Senior Curator at the Anacostia Community Museum, and Frank Smith, Executive Director of the African American Civil War Museum, about the impact of racial oppression in the District and how we move forward to ensure that everyone in our city thrives. Stories of these brave advocates—past and present—inspire us year-round to fight for criminal justice reforms, statehood, voting rights nationwide, and full equality.
Sharing Best Practices From Around the World
We bid farewell to six Africa Alliance Partnership fellows from Kenya’s national prosecution authority last week. The goal of this program, supported by the Attorney General Alliance, is to provide training and share best practices between our two offices. They brought enthusiasm, curiosity, and insight to OAG and made this a great learning experience for all. Thanks to the Director of Kenya’s Office of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji for bringing this class of fellows and his willingness to pursue future partnerships.