More-equal Housing
From: biow (biowcs.UMD.EDU)
Date: Mon, 23 Jan 95 10:01 CST
In <950120120144_7790980 [at] aol.com>, Bpaiss [at] aol.com wrote:

>Over the past few months, I have been involved in a series of discussions
>with a homebuilder marketing consultant for the Highline Crossing
>community here in Colorado.  There seems to be some inherent conflicts
>with the way CoHousing communities recruit potential members and the Fair
>Housing Law.  In a conventional neighborhood of homes for sale, residents
>would not be talking about each other, asking new neighbors about their
>maritial status, families, jobs,  etc.

One thing that you quickly learn from involvement with Equal 
Opportunity and Fair Housing questions is that the law is so 
broadly written that, no matter what you do, someone can find 
fault under the law, complain, and trigger a government 
investigation that may bankrupt you. Horror stories are legion in 
the press. For one example, the Washington_Post recently reported 
on a small newspaper that was charged with religious 
discrimination because it had an Easter Bunny on the same page as 
its real estate ads. As I recall, a non-Christian charged that it 
implied discrimination against him--though I suppose one could 
equally well have charged that such a pagan religious symbol as 
the Bunny discriminates against Christians. The Fair Housing 
authorities had reason to believe that the complaint was spurious 
and made in bad faith (a personal grudge against a classified 
advertiser), but they nonetheless claimed that they were required 
by law to conduct the full investigation, at significant expense 
to the newspaper. In such investigations, the accused is 
generally required by law to produce evidence that demonstrates 
innocence.

Similarly, the lawyers who specialize in scaring people about 
Equal Housing warn against the use of terms such as "walk-in 
closet" (what if a buyer cannot walk?) and "beautiful view" (what 
if he can't see?). In fact, for almost every favorable adjective 
you can find, someone can find a disability that prevents 
appreciation of that quality.

So what do we do in CoHousing? Avoid pissing people off so much 
that they decide to resort to such vandalism-by-proxy. Don't 
needlessly taunt or antagonize those whom your political 
worldview makes you see as opposed to you (e.g. builders, 
bankers, or agents). Be as courteous as possible in rejecting 
people and always have a legitimate legal basis for doing so. And 
*don't* engage in any direct violations of Equal Housing law--any 
requirements having to do with presence or lack of children will 
do so, in flagrant fashion.

Rob Sandelin followed up:

>One way to select membership from a particular set of humanity is to
>advertise in ways which will attract the set you are looking for.  For
>example, if you are looking for families with kids, then advertise in
>parenting magazines and such.  Our local baby diaper service has a
>newspaper on parenting which accepts advertising.

Rob, I know you didn't really mean what you said.

But please don't even say that--at least not without an anonymous 
account. Advertising in such a way as to implicitly select 
against a protected group of people *is* a direct violation of 
Fair Housing law. Virtually the only remaining general exception 
is for discrimination in favor of the elderly. And I don't even 
know if we could do that in a community that is not exclusively 
for the elderly.

Talking about this sort of thing out loud in public can be 
dangerous. (Forget the First Amendment--it is effectively 
suspended in these areas.) See recent press accounts of what 
happened to a neighborhood group in Berkeley which engaged in 
otherwise-legitimate political action to oppose the location of a 
halfway house in their area. They were investigated for (if I 
recall correctly) criminal charges pertaining to conspiracy to 
obstruct housing for the disabled. The stink in the press about 
this action finally caused Undersecretary Achtenberg to stop it, 
given the obvious misapplication of the law. However, if your 
goal really *is* to discriminate in favor of families, you will 
be subject to this sort of enforcement and will be rejected by 
all Right Thinking people.

Better yet, try in good faith to observe a reasonable 
interpretation of the spirit of the law and then hope that the 
bureaucrats in your area will bend the letter of the law to 
protect you. Usually they will. Don't keep written records that 
you don't need to keep, which might later be twisted into 
substantiation for charges against you. Keep just enough to prove 
yourself innocent. If you are investigated, be courteous with the 
bureaucrat--most of them are devoted people trying to do a good 
job. But get a lawyer, also.

Bottom line--if you are involved in housing or employment, there 
is risk. But if you manage that risk intelligently, co-housing is 
worth it, IMHO.
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Chris Biow           There are nine and sixty ways
biow [at] cs.umd.ecu      of making tribal leis,
                     and every one of them is right.  -- Kipling
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