Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston: 20 Landlords and Brokers Sued for Housing Discrimination in Boston

Feb 21, 2024

As Affordable Housing Crisis Devastates Low-Income Communities, Lawsuit Challenges Housing Providers That Refuse to Rent to Subsidized Housing Recipients

In a mammoth new lawsuit filed today, Housing Rights Initiative (“HRI”), a non-profit housing watchdog group, simultaneously sued twenty Boston-area landlords and real estate brokers, challenging pervasive discrimination against low-income tenants. The groundbreaking complaint, a first of its kind in Massachusetts, was filed in Suffolk Superior Court by Lawyers for Civil Rights (“LCR”) and Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC (“HFA”). The lawsuit contends that the Defendant landlords and brokers shamelessly refuse to rent apartments to low-income tenants with government-subsidized housing vouchers—commonly known as “Section 8” vouchers—which the law specifically forbids.

Building on a long tradition of civil rights testing investigations, HRI used “testers” to uncover Defendants’ practices. Identifying as prospective tenants, HRI’s testers contacted landlords and brokers to inquire about apartment listings. Over and over, Defendants and their agents responded positively until the moment when testers asked if they could use vouchers. At that point, the complaint alleges, Defendants openly, and illegally, told the testers that they would not accept vouchers. The complaint includes scores of damning screenshots of text messages explicitly showing this illegal discrimination.

Housing vouchers are designed to help low-income families secure quality housing in their preferred neighborhood by subsidizing a portion of the rent. In the midst of a statewide affordable housing crisis, which disproportionately harms communities of color, vouchers are often the only way for thousands of families to get and keep a roof over their heads. Recognizing the vulnerability of voucher holders, the Commonwealth’s anti-discrimination statute—G.L. c. 151B—specifically prohibits landlords from discriminating against applicants for using housing vouchers.

“As the largest fair housing lawsuit by defendant size in Massachusetts history, this lawsuit sends a clear message to every landlord and broker in the state: if you are a real estate company that discriminates against families and children with housing vouchers, the question of whether you will be caught is not a matter of if, but when,” said Aaron Carr, Founder and Executive Director of Housing Rights Initiative.

“This lawsuit aims not just to hold twenty defendants accountable for their deplorable conduct,” said Jacob Love, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, “but to serve as a warning to all local housing providers that voucher discrimination is illegal and will not be tolerated. The message here is clear: stop discriminating against low-income families and children.”

Widespread voucher discrimination impedes the housing search process, prolonging the time voucher-approved families must spend in homeless shelters, on the streets, or in substandard dwellings. This destabilizes and endangers families and children. It also entrenches Boston’s racially segregated housing patterns. Black and Latinx Bostonians are overwhelmingly concentrated in low-income areas with fewer public resources than similarly-situated white families. Voucher discrimination perpetuates this reality by limiting the options available to voucher holders outside those areas.

Housing Rights Initiative, with its attorneys at LCR and HFA, is committed to ensuring broad compliance with civil rights laws in the Boston-area housing market. For too long, landlords and real estate brokers have broken those laws with impunity—callously rejecting voucher holders with disregard for the lasting damage that such discrimination does to people and communities.

Today’s lawsuit marks the start of a new era of fair housing enforcement in Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Fair housing violators will be brought to justice.

Click here to download the complaint.

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