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Virginia Attorney General's Office files housing discrimination lawsuits against 29 Richmond-area companies
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Virginia Attorney General's Office files housing discrimination lawsuits against 29 Richmond-area companies

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Twenty-nine Richmond-area real estate companies and property managers are facing legal action accusing them of discriminating against renters protected under a recent change to state law.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office Monday filed 13 separate lawsuits against the companies, alleging they “categorically rejected” prospective tenants who called seeking rental housing and said they would use a common federal subsidy to help pay their rent, according to a news release. Herring’s office partnered with a national watchdog organization on its investigation. The apartment complexes investigators targeted include 1,500 units, but the companies themselves own more elsewhere in the state and country.

“Every single Virginian has the right to a safe, comfortable home, regardless of whether they have some assistance paying their rent,” Herring said in the release announcing the filings. “Blocking Virginians who would use a [voucher] to pay their rent is outright housing discrimination and will not be tolerated in Virginia.”

The lawsuits are the first of their kind under an addition to state fair housing protections that the Virginia General Assembly passed and Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law in 2020. It forbids housing discrimination on the basis of source of income. Mainly, it was designed to protect thousands of households living in poverty across the state that rely on the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program to pay a portion of their rent.

Like public housing, the voucher ensures families pay no more than 30% of their monthly income on their rent and utilities. But unlike public housing, the vouchers are attached to a household, not a physical unit, meaning families that possess one are supposed to be able to move freely in the private rental market.

The vouchers are coveted, and getting one can take years. When the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority held an application period for the chance to get one of the subsidies, calls from tenants crashed its phone system. By the end of the week, it had received 15,000 applications for one of 5,000 slots on its wait list.

A tenant’s freedom to choose where they live is a key piece of the program that is meant to give families access to neighborhoods closer to jobs, transportation, better schools and opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

However, some landlords and property managers have used vouchers as a way of screening out potential tenants. In the Richmond region, that has led to a pattern of voucher holders living in neighborhoods with a high poverty rate.

If left unchallenged, the discrimination would leave tenants with fewer housing choices than they are entitled to under the state protections. In Richmond, 94% of voucher holders are Black, and nine out of 10 households with the subsidy are headed by women, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data. Of all voucher recipients, half have children, and one in five have a person with a disability in their household.

The Housing Rights Initiative, a national nonprofit group that advocates for fair housing, conducted a series of calls to the 29 real estate companies. Callers posed as prospective tenants. In recorded calls, staff for each of the companies told the callers they don’t accept voucher holders, according to Herring’s office. The method is a nationally recognized way of exposing patterns of discrimination that may not otherwise come to light.

In Richmond, Herring’s Office of Civil Rights filed nine housing discrimination lawsuits. The office filed one lawsuit against Campus-Sydnor, LLC doing business as The Sydnor Flats; CCSHP The Collection, LLC doing business as The Collection Midtown; and Campus Apartments, LLC doing business as Pierce Arrow Properties. It also filed against PMC Kensington Court Apartments, LLC, 1806 East Franklin Street, LLC, 403 Stockton Street, LLC, PMC/Seaboard, LLC and PMC Property Group, Inc.; against Harrison Street Development LLC and 18th Street Management, LLC; against FC Cameron Kinney LLC and Brookfield Properties Multifamily, LLC; against Studio Row LLC and Fulton Hill Properties, LLC; against Shockoe Realty Ventures LLC and Gates, Hudson, and Associates, Inc.; against Miller & Rhoads Condominium Association, Inc. and HRI Properties, LLC; against CB Richmond Associates, L.C. and Rangewater Residential, LLC; and against Historic Broad Pioneers, LLC doing business as Metro Sound Apartments.

In Henrico, the attorney general’s office filed two lawsuits. These included one against Copper Springs Property LP and Bell Partners Inc., and one against MDO Champions LLC and CORE Realty Holdings Management, Inc.

In Chesterfield, the attorney general’s office also filed two lawsuits. One lawsuit is against Falling Creek BL Owner LLC and Brick Lane LLC, and the other against Dominion Realty Partners, LLC and Rivergate KW Management LLC.

Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of the Housing Rights Initiative, said in the release that the situation showed how important collaboration between the public and private sector is to expose discrimination.

“We hope our investigation, this lawsuit, Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws, and our partnership with the Attorney General’s office serves as a housing enforcement model for the rest of the country,” Carr said in the news release.

Herring’s office is seeking an injunction against each of the companies to halt the discrimination, as well as monetary damages and civil penalties and legal costs.

mrobinson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6734

Twitter: @__MarkRobinson

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