Fair housing group files federal complaints against five landlords in Oak Park

Anne Houghtaling, executive director of the HOPE Fair Housing Center, meets with members of Oak Park’s Fair Housing Task Force. The nonprofit advocacy group filed fair housing complaints against five landlords in the village in early July. | Ian Fullerton/For Sun-TImes Media
Anne Houghtaling, executive director of the HOPE Fair Housing Center, meets with members of Oak Park’s Fair Housing Task Force. The nonprofit advocacy group filed fair housing complaints against five landlords in the village in early July. | Ian Fullerton/For Sun-TImes Media

The HOPE Fair Housing Center has lodged complaints with the federal government against five “property providers” in the village for alleged discrimination against rental applicants.

Anne Houghtaling, executive director of the West Chicago-based nonprofit, told members of Oak Park’s Fair Housing Task Force at its July 23 meeting that her organization had named five companies in Oak Park as defendants in “administrative complaints alleging fair housing violations” filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this month.

The grievances, reported to HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, were based on the findings of a village-commissioned fair housing report in which the group used “tester” applicants to probe for symptoms of racial and disability-related discrimination among a pool of 15 property owners who advertised units in Oak Park. HOPE claimed that the report, released in February, revealed evidence of “startling” discrimination within the village’s rental market.

Houghtaling said that, of the five companies, “at least two” were being accused of violations based on race, while three were cited for disability-related violations that, as she said, were “more blatant.” Others in the testing pool showed signs of discrimination that were “of concern” but stopped short of warranting a complaint.

Houghtaling declined to name the five defendants, saying she was unsure of the benefits of such a disclosure at this time.

“Is the point to identify the issue, see what the resolution can be and move forward … or is it public shaming?” she asked.

As part of the investigation, testers of varying ethnicities and disability statuses called rental owners to inquire about listed apartments; renters who were perceived to show preference for one individual over another based on race or disability were red-flagged.

“There were some housing providers where the agents did the right thing, and there were some that did not,” said Houghtaling.

She said that the complaints, now in the hands of the federal government, could produce a number of outcomes, ranging from injunctive relief — the equivalent of a public apology — to fines and probation monitoring.

When asked if the complaints were a first for the defendants, Houghtaling said that “it may be for some, and not the first for others.”

Houghtaling appeared before the housing task force as part of the group’s fact-finding mission on the state of fair housing standards in Oak Park. The task force is expected to present a recommendation on the issue to the village’s Board of Trustees in October.

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