D.C. AG reaches $10 million settlement with firms in housing discrimination suit
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Three real estate firms based in the wealthiest parts of the nation's capital and some of their executives will have to pay a landmark $10 million settlement to the city for blocking families with lower incomes from their buildings. The firms are also banned from managing property in D.C. because they're accused of discriminating against renters who use Section 8 vouchers and other forms of housing assistance. Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine says it's the largest civil penalty in a housing discrimination case in U.S. history. And he said that when he announced it yesterday. And he joins us now. Good morning, and welcome to the program.
KARL RACINE: Good morning, Leila. It's a pleasure to be here.
FADEL: So, Attorney General, this settlement is historic because of the price tag, but it also sends a message, right? What is the larger message your office and this penalty sends to real estate firms operating in D.C.?
RACINE: The larger and clear message is, all real estate firms, all landlords, all management companies in the District of Columbia must accept anyone in the District of Columbia who has a housing voucher. The reason why housing vouchers are so important is because the skyrocketing cost of rent. We know that even when people work one, two and three jobs, they still can't make ends meet in terms of paying rent in the District of Columbia. These vouchers, which support people who already pay 30% of their income for rent, are necessary. And if you don't accept them, the Office of Attorney General is going to investigate and issue significant penalties.
FADEL: Now, you've compared landlords breaking the law, refusing to accept these vouchers to Jim Crow-era housing discrimination policies. If you could expand on this type of discrimination and what it does in a city like D.C. that's dealing with these high levels of gentrification and displacement of longtime Black and brown residents.
RACINE: Sure. My comments about the Jim Crow-era discrimination relate to the demographics of the District of Columbia. And indeed, what we found is that 95% of voucher holders in D.C. are Black. Seventy-nine percent are women. Thirty-two percent are single mothers. Sixty-six percent make less than $20,000 a year. And so because the overwhelming majority of people - 95% - are Black, those folks who discriminate against voucher holders are essentially committing racial discrimination and are barring Blacks from renting. I want to say another point, broadly, more nationally. Where the demographics are not as they are in the District of Columbia - let's just think of rural white America...
RACINE: ...Voucher holders are overwhelmingly white. Only 19 states have laws like the District of Columbia which make it discriminatory to deny voucher holders. That means in rural areas where they're overwhelming white folks, they, too, are likely being discriminated against. So don't mess - don't get confused about race. Think about poverty. Think about the working poor. Think about what's right. And what's right is to allow people to pay rent, even if they're getting support from the government.
FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, do you want other cities to follow suit in what you did?
RACINE: Yes. It's incredibly necessary. And as you know, discriminate (ph) is not easy to detect. In our case, we had a whistleblower who stood up in the face of being called names and being accused of fraud. And she told us the truth. The email that's...
FADEL: Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. Thank you so much for your time.
RACINE: Thank you.
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