Pinellas fair housing conference promotes equal rights for all
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04/11/11 Lenka Davis and Christopher Davis
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

Are you planning to rent an apartment but the landlord does not want you to live there with the kids? Were you ever denied the purchase of a house because your skin color did not fit in the neighborhood? The Fair Housing conference, organized by Tampa Bay Fair Housing Consortium and Pinellas County Office of Human Rights last Friday dealt with equal access to housing.

In April 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Fair Housing Act was adopted at the federal level. For about 25 years, Fair housing seminars have been held during fair housing month in April. James Bramble is with the Neighborhood Home Solutions. What does fair housing mean to him?

"Well, it means the equal opportunity for all members of our community to obtain and sustain housing that they choose."

Leon Russel, director of Pinellas County Office of Human Rights says fair housing programs are important to protect equal housing options for everyone.

"Housing is one of the fundamental rights that people have across this nation and it's important to ensure that people have access to housing without regard to their membership in a protected class: race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, whether they have a family. Those things need to be protected. That's what the fair housing act protects. We are here to talk about those things. We are also going to talk about some new elements. What has this foreclosure crisis done to people and how can they respond to that? What help is available in the area for people who are in foreclosure. Also people who have disabilities and need to modify their housing in order to make it more accessible to them. We are here to talk about programs that exist at the local government level to provide them with assistance with making those accommodations. A number of organizations have come together to put on this program but also to teach people in our community about their rights and responsibilities."

Mark Esparza from Pinellas County Office of Human Rights says housing discrimination takes a variety of forms.

"You'd be surprised about how our cases reflect our local population and demographics, because in our community, we have a lot of older persons. Those older persons might not be falling into the category of your traditional racial minorities or a gender type minority. Instead you're going to get housing for older persons who need caregivers, who need ramps, curb cuts, service animals; and so you have an older population that actually wants different things. And so you are not going to give your traditional denial or traditional types of cases you always find."

People with physical challenges might encounter similar problems. Families with children might be steered to certain buildings or floors, children themselves could be banned from using public neighborhood facilities. Leon Russel gives some other examples.

"There still are people who will not sell or rent their homes to people of a different race. We obviously have religious issues these days. People who want to pick on a particular religion, so they won’t allow people of a religious faith to be in their communities."

Russel says people who find themselves in one of these difficult situations, can do the following:

"If they are in Pinellas County, they should call the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights, if they are in Hillsborough County, they should call the City of Tampa office of Human Rights or the Hillsborough County Office of Equal Opportunity. We will provide them with information about what's going on. If somebody needs further assistance, they can always call the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development or go to hud.gov on the web and look up the information. If they need legal advice, Bay Area Legal Services has offices in Pinellas County and in Hillsborough County and Gulf Coast Legal Services does as well. So those are available. If they are an apartment owner or manager, they can always contact the Bay Area Apartment Association and they will provide them with information. So there is a multitude of opportunities out there. We just encourage people to get in touch with us.

Previous WMNF news coverage of fair housing

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