WASHINGTON – Housing discrimination reports in Maryland rose slightly, to 110 complaints in fiscal 2004, with most complaints filed by blacks and people with disabilities, according to the Maryland Commission on Human Relations.
The complaints rose from 103 in 2003, a slightly slower rise than the 8.6 percent increase in discrimination reports nationally during the same period, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance.
The number of reported instances in Maryland may seem small, but that does not mean discrimination is not occurring, said Charles Blue, housing supervisor for the state human relations commission. He said housing discrimination cases are seriously underreported.
“We know that for a fact,” Blue said. “Especially (when) dealing with Hispanics, who might be afraid to file because they might be illegal.”
Hispanics filed only four complaints in 2004 of discrimination related to national origin. By comparison, blacks accounted for 49 complaints and people with disabilities filed 44 complaints during the year.
Federal law protects renters, buyers, and prospective buyers or renters from being denied housing because of their race, gender, disability, marital status or ethnicity. Maryland law covers those categories, but also extends protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Besides being denied housing, discrimination can also include “steering” of protected groups. Steering occurs when people are encouraged to look for homes in neighborhoods that match their racial or sexual or other characteristics — or are discouraged from looking in a neighborhood that is not like them.
Blue said people may not report housing discrimination because they often do not know they are protected by the law, or because they fear their landlord will retaliate if they report an incident.
Shanna Smith, the president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, agreed that the numbers of complaints “do not even coming close to capturing and dealing with the amount of discrimination” that actually occurs.
She said a big reason that housing discrimination cases are not reported is because there are only about 100 private fair-housing centers nationally where people can file a complaint. She said Maryland only has one such private-sector, fair-housing advocacy group, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc.
But home buyers or renters can also file a complaint with state and local housing or human relations agencies, and Blue said the state has been making an aggressive push to get the word out.
“It takes a long time,” he said, for people “to get the confidence to protect themselves.”
Smith credited the slight increase in reports from 2003 to 2004 to public service announcements, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that explain what housing discrimination is and how to report it.
“We have gotten millions of dollars of free play time from radio and television,” she said. “A lot of these ads are starting to make them (possible victims) think twice.”
Landlords or sellers who are found guilty of violating housing discrimination laws can face fines or can be forced to make accommodations for or rent to the people they discriminated against.
Smith said housing protections affect more than just tenants and landlords. Schools, for instance, remain segregated when homeowners live in neighborhoods that are also segregated.
“If we don’t grow up with each other, we will continue to have the hate and the anger that exists now,” she said.
-30- CNS 04-08-05