Vermont chapter of NAACP receives ‘avalanche’ of housing discrimination complaints

Mary Brown Guillory

Mary Brown-Guillory (center), president of the Champlain area NAACP. Photo by Sarah Olsen/VTDigger

Mary Brown-Guillory, president of the Champlain area National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told a statewide civil rights panel Monday that her organization has received an “avalanche” of discrimination complaints.

In the month since they’ve been “open for business,” Vermont’s first NAACP chapter has received at least 50 complaints. Most involve discrimination, she said, including housing discrimination.

“Individuals do not want to sell their property to people of color,” Brown-Guillory said.

Housing discrimination and possible solutions were the topic of Monday’s panel discussion meant to brief the Vermont State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, according to their website.  The commission’s goal is to give information pursuant to the development of national civil rights policy and improve enforcement of federal civil rights laws.

Brown-Guillory said minority college students and recent grads have to use a friend’s name to apply for housing because landlords won’t rent to people with ethnic-sounding names.

Her son, a recent college graduate, wasn’t able to find a landlord willing to rent to him in Vermont because he is African American, she said, and he ended up moving to New York City.

“It is a big concern to me that young people of color are not able to find housing here,” she said. “I mean, I know that we’re trying to diversify the state.” Vermont is among the whitest states in the country with 95 percent white residents, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data.

Brown-Guillory said that she also knows of two instances where people were discriminated against for their religion.

“The property owner makes the decision on who they want to rent to and it doesn’t matter what your credit score is or if you are willing to pay six months’ rent up front,” she said.

Diane Snelling, chair of the Vermont State Advisory Committee to the commission, said in an Aug. 3 press release that past reports by the Vermont State Advisory Committee to the commission have brought about “significant policy changes” in Vermont and that the committee’s review of fair housing issues is “timely and compelling.”

Vermont Legal Aid, a civil rights nonprofit law firm, recently released data from a study conducted by its fair housing program. The study shows preferential treatment toward white residents without children and without an apparent disability, said Marsha Curtis, of Vermont Legal Aid.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminating against an individual because of their race, color, national origin, disability, sex, religion or familial status. Legal Aid’s Housing Discrimination Law Project has found anecdotal evidence of unlawful discrimination in Vermont, said staff attorney Rebecca Plummer.

While conducting the tests related to national origin and race, the discrimination found was often subtle, and sometimes the testers didn’t even know they were being discriminated against, Curtis said.  When it came to tests concerning familial status and disability, discrimination was less subtle, she said. Sometimes there were even direct discriminatory statements.

Curtis said this helped to explain why the Housing Discrimination Law Project and the Vermont Human Rights Commission receive more complaints of discrimination based on disability and familial status than race and national origin.

The testing was largely conducted in Chittenden County, and while other areas were tested as well they didn’t have enough statistical data to be compared accurately to Chittenden County, Curtis said.

Plummer said that there should be mandatory fair housing training for all Vermont housing providers.

One of the panelists, David Sagi, an American Disabilities Act program manager, said housing units and apartment complexes in Vermont could be more accessible for elderly or disabled people.

Eight of 10 accessibility audits conducted by Vermont Legal Aid in 2012 and 2013 on newly-constructed, multi-family housing units found some level of noncompliance with the Fair Housing Act’s design and construction accessibility requirements, Curtis said.

Sagi said disabled people must have accessible housing and public transportation to support employment. It’s hard for a disabled person who doesn’t have a job for any reason to survive solely on a disabilities check, he said.

“Accessible, affordable housing, to me, is needed at a location that serves a person in all aspects of their life,” Sagi said.

Plummer said people with mental health disabilities often need accommodations, but landlords sometimes jump to conclusions about their behavior, which may be misinterpreted as risky or dangerous.

Karen Richards, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, said anyone who has been discriminated against can ask for an investigation into the situation.

“We’re basically complaint-based,” Richards said.

The commission can’t investigate complaints they don’t receive, she said.

Angela Zaikowski, director of the Vermont Apartment Owners’ Association and an advocate for landlords, said that landlords don’t know what they’re saying or doing is discriminatory. Zaikowski said her office works to educate them on what’s legal and what isn’t.

When asked during the panel how she might attempt to address the barriers between tenants and landlords, Zaikowski said her organization has created a presentation on Vermont renter myths that she plans to “take on the road with her.”

Further outreach and education was recommended by most of the panelists as a possible solution to continued housing discrimination.

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  • Paul Richards

    ““I mean, I know that we’re trying to diversify the state.” ”
    For what purpose? Just for the sake of “diversity”? Why is it that just because there is a particular ethnic or other variation in a population that it is automatically assumed there is some injustice and that forcing “diversity” must be undertaken to “fix” the problem. It’s the same thing that HUD is doing in the suburbs. This is social engineering by the government to try and make everybody and everything equal. Newsflash!; there are no 2 human beings that are the same and no matter what they try to do to change that it will always be that way.

  • I was also struck by the line about “diversifying” Vermont, although perhaps for different reasons than Mr. Richards.

    Is that an actual policy platform for VT State Government?

    • Paul Richards

      I believe that was a quote from the president of the Champlain area NAACP, not the state but I could be wrong.
      The bottom line is that the government is hell bent on trying to make everyone and everything equal by socially engineering everything. They take money from us to prop up whatever they deem to be unequal without recognizing the basic fact of life that we are unique.
      Meanwhile the president and his minions fan the flames of racism.

    • Paul Richards

      I believe that was a quote from the president of the Champlain area NAACP, not the state but I could be wrong.
      The bottom line is that the government is hell bent on trying to make everyone and everything equal by socially engineering everything. They take money from us to prop up whatever they deem to be unequal without recognizing the basic fact of life that we are unique.

  • Judith McLaughlin

    I would never be a landlord in this state. Everyone knows that Vermont landlords have absolutely no rights.

    Tenants can move in….stop paying rent….and it takes an entire year and your life savings to get rid of them.

    I doubt we’ll hear stories about this problem though.

    • Paul Richards

      True story and if they are low income it may take longer. They will hire lawyers on our dime and fight eviction, file counter suits or whatever they have to do to stay. The landlord must pay for their own attorney as well as the attorneys of their delinquent tenant (through their tax dollars). It’s a hell of a system and they wonder why landlords are skittish. If the tenant ultimately loses it’s no skin off their nose. They have absolutely no consequence for spending our money for a frivolous law suit, wrecking someone’s property and not paying rent. They just move on to the next one. There is no equal protection under the law.

  • Phyllis North

    I believe Vermont is diversifying for two reasons: the refugee resettlement program, in which refugees are sent here by the federal government (but with no extra funds for things like language instruction in the schools); and our comparatively generous social programs, which are attracting low-income minorities from other states. Obviously, none of these people should face discrimination in housing. But the net effect of these demographic changes will be higher costs to the state at a time when state budgets are very tight. Ironically, it could lead to cuts in state social programs.

  • Todd Schlossberg

    Mr. Richards:
    Please tell me under what program are low income or indigent Vermonters able to “hire lawyers on our dime and fight eviction, file counter suits or whatever they have to do to stay.” I am not aware of a right to government-paid attorney for indigent / low income Vermonters in civil (non-criminal) cases. Thank you.

    • Paul Richards

      Todd, I can’t give you a statute number or a specific program name but I can tell you that I know firsthand that it is available to and is used by people in this manner. I’m sure if you contacted any of the states attorney’s offices they could tell you. In the case that I have firsthand knowledge of the tenant had 2 lawyers. This should not be surprising to you or anyone else following current trends. Where is the justice and equal protection under the law for law abiding landlords? Why must they fund both sides of the case and then get nothing in return for being in the right? This is tyranny.

  • Kenneth Peterson

    When are people going to understand that the more laws, or rules etc that you try to force upon others the more fighting or pulling apart there will be. This is America where we should have the right (always did) untill the government poked their noses where it does not belong. we own the homes or apartment, it is our . not the governments, we have a right to sell to whom we wish to sell too or rent, I for one would not let any race issue stop me from renting if the person no matter male or female, or black , Asian, White, Hispanic etc, as long as they have references that check out and have maintained some good credit accounts . but it is still my choice, this is why we need to get rid of the liberals and socialists in office and get back to being American land of the free and proud . i am sick of this nonsense of yelling discrimation for every little issue. our anncestors fought for this freedom. none of my ancestors or most of yours ever owned any person (slaves) yet we fought to free them and this is the thanks we get, to be told that we have to rent to a certain group because of color . then this is no longer America.

  • Steve Carlson

    Having spent many years as a small-time landlord, I know it is sometimes difficult to evict tenants who are destroying the property and not paying rent. That said, there is NO excuse, EVER, for discriminating against people based on color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other factors. Every “tenant from hell” I ever had was a white, multi-generation Vermonter. I am shocked to see not only that this kind of discrimination still exists, but that other commenters are defending it for overtly racist reasons.

    • John Greenberg

      Thank you, Steve Carlson.

    • Paul Richards

      The current administration defends what they do for “overtly racist reasons”. The NAACP defends what they do for “overtly racist reasons”. What I see here are some commenters concerned about the government forcing them to cede their property rights over to them. It has nothing to do with race. This happens regardless of race or other “protected” status. Someone’s race etc. should not be the fall back answer as to why someone can’t get an apartment. Why must it always be about race?

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