Photo of a gavel on a desk with a law book. Photo by Adobe Stock.

DC wins historic settlement against voucher discrimination

Photo of a gavel on a desk with a law book. Photo by Adobe Stock.

The District of Columbia received a $10 million settlement in its lawsuit against landlords who discriminated against renters with housing vouchers. This is the largest civil penalty for housing discrimination in U.S. history.

While announcing the decision, DC Attorney General Karl Racine said, “This case should send a strong message that if you break the law and discriminate against renters who use housing subsidies, you will face serious consequences.”

What happened?

The District’s Human Rights Act bans discrimination against persons who use government subsidies, also known as source-of-income (SOI) discrimination.

The companies named in the lawsuit are DARO Management Services, DARO Realty, and Infinity Real Estate. DC officials documented discriminatory practices in 15 buildings owned or managed by the companies. 

The buildings were concentrated in the city’s most affluent areas. The companies’ practices kept voucher holders from moving to neighborhoods with better schools and opportunities.

The lawsuit cited the companies for running ads with illegal discriminatory language. The companies were also charged with engaging in discriminatory practices to keep voucher holders from applying for apartments. In addition, DC officials documented that the companies charged extra fees to applicants who were voucher recipients.

Parallel to racial discrimination

The DC attorney general’s announcement points out that 95% of voucher holders in the District are Black, 79% are women, and 32% are single mothers. Attorney General Racine said, “When landlords break the law and refuse to accept vouchers, it’s reminiscent of Jim Crow-era housing discrimination policies intended to restrain opportunities for Black residents.”

In addition to the $10 million penalty, the companies are barred from managing property in the District forever. They must transfer operation of all their properties in the city to an independent third-party manager within 18 months. The settlement also requires property manager Carissa Barry to forfeit her DC real estate licenses for 15 years.

The action is part of a larger effort by the District of Columbia to crack down on those who discriminate against renters with housing subsidies. SOI discrimination impacts a lot of renters in the District. 

The city is home to about 11,500 households that depend on federal Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. In the last year, more than 3,400 families have used rapid rehousing vouchers. In total, more than 50,000 DC residents rely on some form of housing assistance.

Nationwide effect

In an interview with National Public Radio, Attorney General Racine agreed that other cities and states should adopt laws against source-of-income discrimination. He said that because most voucher recipients in the District are Black, discriminating against renters with vouchers amounts to racial discrimination.

But Racine also pointed out that discrimination against renters who use government programs is a problem throughout the country, even in mostly white, rural areas. Racine told NPR, “Think about the working poor. Think about what is right. And what’s right is to allow people to pay rent, even if they’re getting support from the government.”