Montclair Local

Town, Experts Give Advice On Housing Rights

Montclair Local — March 8, 2018

By Tina Pappas
for Montclair Local

A home buyer is steered away from purchasing a home in Upper Montclair and instead shown homes in the Fourth Ward, a single mother of three seeking to lease apartment is turned down by four different landlords, despite a high credit score and stable income a woman is denied a mortgage. These are all examples of how discrimination stills exists today for many attempting to find homes.

About 60 residents came out to learn about their rights when it comes to fair housing and the signs of discrimination when dealing with landlords, real estate agents, homeowner associations, banks and property owners.
The forum was held Feb. 27 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Fair Housing Act and highlighted the current status of affordable housing. The act was signed into law in April 1968 with the intent to prohibit discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing to individuals based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville brought together a panel, which included Amanda Smith, a fair housing advocate with New Jersey Citizen Action; Deirdre Malloy, local realtor and co-chair of the Montclair Housing Commission; Paul Burr, attorney with expertise in fair housing laws; and William Scott, chair of the Montclair NAACP Housing Committee and co-chair of the Montclair Housing Commission.

Smith explained how her agency helps residents navigate a discrimination case.

"We gather evidence once we confirm there's a pattern of discrimination and then we file a complaint on behalf of people," she said.

The agency also takes complaints anonymously and conducts an investigation of every complaint.

"Testers," are sent out by the agency answering housing ads. If discrimination is alleged by the tester, an investigation is launched of possibly violators.
"This is for further evidence to submit to HUD," she said, noting that 50 years after the law was signed, the affordable housing fight continues.

Steering clear of discrimination

Steering is the practice of real estate brokers guiding prospective home buyers toward or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race or advising a customer to buy home in a particular neighborhood on the basis of race. Baskerville contends this type of discrimination exists in Montclair.

"Steering can go both ways," she said. "Here in Montclair, when white individuals come to the township and are interested in purchasing a home in the Fourth Ward in Montclair, they've been steered to not go down there, so steering works both ways. I think it's so important that we share education and that we understand examples of discrimination."

Baskerville said this kind of discrimination should also be reported to the National Association of Realtors. "Realtors could lose their licenses and it is serious," she said.

Redlining is when a person gets denied a mortgage from a bank even though he or she has the same credit score as another individual who got approved.

Other factors leading to less diversity

Housing regulations can potentially lead to some discriminatory tactics in governing bodies. Baskerville cited zoning ordinances as one of the possible culprits.

"There is zoning, which allows for very spacious properties, making it almost prohibited from people with lower to moderate income to get into that neighborhood. So I raise a question if that is a tactic to continue to segregate housing," she said. "The second part of this is that the whole idea is the intent to abolish segregating residents and to bring all people together and the right to live in any community."

Rising property taxes were cited as a problem potentially resulting in a less diverse community. Baskerville advised that homeowners could file an appeal regarding their property assessment.

James Harris, vice president of the Montclair chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who was an audience member, stressed the need for a strong tenants' association, which he recalled the township having in the past.

"That's what's missing in this discussion. We need to be organized as tenants so that there's an organized voice. What's missing is a strong tenants' organization in Montclair," he said. "Taking care of poor people and the elderly has become a very hard job because they are afraid to speak up and their rights are being violated. Politicians will not listen unless you help them or hurt them."

He also cited the township's rise in cost of living having an impact with that the local high school's demographics, saying the portion of African American students is currently at 25 percent.

"That means many have left the town," he further stated. "The reason they are leaving this town is that they can't afford the rent, so let's do what civil rights has always done. Let's get organized!"

Residents who feel they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Montclair Landlord-Tenant Committee at 973-744-1400 ex. 6055; New Jersey Citizen Action at 732-246-4772; and the Montclair Housing Commission at 973-744-1400.

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