A slew of Richmond-area rental companies have agreed to settle housing discrimination lawsuits Attorney General Mark Herring’s Office of Civil Rights filed against them last fall.
The lawsuits centered on a recently adopted state law seeking to eliminate discrimination against renters who hold a federal Housing Choice Voucher. The settlements, announced Friday, include more than $100,000 in relief, commitments from the companies to explicitly advertise their acceptance of vouchers at complexes they manage and to schedule ongoing fair housing training for staff, among other stipulations.
“Refusing to rent to someone who is using a Housing Choice Voucher is not only illegal, but it’s blatant housing discrimination and it will not be tolerated in the commonwealth,” Herring stated in a news release announcing the settlements Friday morning. “I commend these housing providers for coming to the table, acknowledging issues that prevented voucher holders from accessing their properties, and recommitting to fair housing principles of equality and choice for all.”
The lawsuits were the first of their kind under an addition to Virginia’s Fair Housing law that took effect in 2020. The new provision prohibited 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 federal vouchers ensure 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 meant to have more housing options in the private rental market. 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.
Historically, however, some landlords and property managers have used the subsidies 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.
In Richmond, such discrimination disproportionately affects Black residents and people with disabilities. Locally, 94% of voucher holders are Black, and nine out of 10 households with the subsidy are headed by women, according to federal data. Of all voucher recipients, half have children, and one in five have a person with a disability in their household.
Last October, Herring’s Office of Civil Rights announced 13 lawsuits against 29 Richmond-area companies and property managers, alleging they “categorically rejected” prospective tenants who called seeking rental housing and identified themselves as voucher holders. The announcement of the settlement comes on Herring’s final day in office.
Partnering with the attorney general’s office was a national watchdog organization, the Housing Rights Initiative. The apartment complexes investigators targeted include 1,500 units, but the companies themselves own more elsewhere in the state and country. Callers working with the watchdog group posed as prospective tenants when they contacted the rental companies.
In recorded calls, staff for each of the companies turned them away, saying their properties did not accept voucher holders. The method, known as testing, is a nationally recognized way of exposing patterns of discrimination that may not otherwise come to light.
Agreeing to settlements with the state were: 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; FC Cameron Kinney LLC and Brookfield Properties Multifamily, LLC; Shockoe Realty Ventures LLC and Gates, Hudson, and Associates Inc.; Historic Broad Pioneers, LLC doing business as Metro Sound Apartments; Copper Springs Property LP and Bell Partners Inc.; and Dominion Realty Partners, LLC and Rivergate KW Management LLC.
In addition to marketing to voucher holders, the companies agreed to regularly report outcomes of applications from households with a voucher to the Attorney General’s Office.
“The outcomes of these historic lawsuits speak to the power and promise of non-profits and government agencies working together to uproot the illegal practices of housing discrimination,” said Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of the watchdog group, in the news release. “These settlements pave the path for our continued work in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the country. This is just the beginning.”
Still pending are lawsuits alleging discrimination against: PMC Kensington Court Apartments, LLC, 1806 East Franklin Street, LLC, 403 Stockton Street, LLC, PMC/Seaboard, LLC and PMC Property Group Inc.; Harrison Street Development LLC and 18th Street Management, LLC; Miller & Rhoads Condominium Association Inc. and HRI Properties, LLC; CB Richmond Associates, L.C. and Rangewater Residential, LLC; and Falling Creek BL Owner LLC and Brick Lane LLC.
Residents seeking to file a housing discrimination complaint can reach out to the state’s Fair Housing Office online or call (888) 551-3247.