Council presses mayor’s staff on fair housing

The Common Council has asked the Brown administration to account for its enforcement of – or, failure to enforce – the city’s fair housing law.

Last week, the Council asked for a report on the city’s handling of housing discrimination complaints over the past three years. At a brief appearance before a Council committee Tuesday, Harold Cardwell, the city’s fair housing officer, agreed to provide that report within 30 days.

The Council’s request, initiated by President Darius Pridgen, came after Investigative Post reported in July that City Hall has largely failed to enforce the fair housing law.

The law prohibits landlords from turning away potential tenants simply because they rely on government assistance, like a Section 8 voucher, or housing assistance from Erie County, to help pay their rent. But the system for handling discrimination complaints is plagued by dysfunction and delays, and the city has failed to act on most of the complaints filed.

“Council President Pridgen has shown himself to be a man of his word, and HOME and the advocates for fair housing in Buffalo appreciate his timely response in this matter,” said DeAnna Eason, executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a local fair housing organization that has a city contract to investigate discrimination complaints.

By law, the Council should already have been receiving annual reports containing the information Pridgen is seeking: the number of discrimination complaints made, the outcome of those cases, and details on cases that are still pending.

Those reports, however, don’t appear to have ever been filed since the fair housing law was introduced in 2006. Pridgen acknowledged Tuesday that the Council had not previously asked for them, either.

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Mayor Byron Brown has insisted that City Hall’s enforcement of the fair housing law is “very aggressive.”

But Investigative Post’s review of housing discrimination complaints filed with the city found that many sat, unresolved, for years. Even when the fair housing officer agreed that someone had been discriminated against, the city rarely took enforcement action against the landlord, or tried to bring the parties together for a settlement.

“If we find out that something is not being enforced or something is not staffed, it still becomes our responsibility to go back and fix the problem,” Pridgen told Investigative Post this summer. “We investigate it now, see what’s happening, what’s not happening and make the wrongs right.”