Hilary King of Housing Research and Advocacy Center

By Demetrius Barnes

Editor’s Note: This is an interview of Hilary King, the executive director of the Housing Research and Advocacy Center.  King took over the organization in 2011, and has continued to grow the organization into one of the leading fair housing groups in the country.  HRAC publishes research on barriers to accessing housing and monitors the rental market to protect against owners violating fair housing laws.  More information can be found at www.thehousingcenter.org.

 Q: What is Housing Research and Advocacy Center and what do you do?

HK:  We are a fair housing and fair lending organization, and we promote fair housing in diverse communities in Northeast Ohio by providing effective research, advocacy, and education to residents of Northeast Ohio.

 Q: How big is the problem of housing discrimination locally?

HK:  It’s a significant problem locally.  We estimate that over 30,000 people a year experience housing discrimination in Northeast Ohio.  We receive numerous calls every week from people who have experienced housing discrimination right here.  It’s a serious problem, and since housing is so central to all of the different services and experiences in our lives it affects education, health services, grocery stores, transportation and the quality of life everything you can think of.  It makes a difference in not only housing opportunity but in all opportunities.

 Q: What is one of the questions that the new and experienced professionals assisting Housing Research and Advocacy Center can ask and answer to prevent housing discrimination in Northeast Ohio?

HK:  If people think that they have experienced housing discrimination I would encourage them to contact our office because we can help them.  We have a Fair Housing Specialist who helps people on a daily basis. Our staff can help those who believe they have experienced housing discrimination, by providing information about how to file a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or with the US Department of Housing and Urban and Development.  We also test housing discrimination charges. We send out testers to determine whether or not there is a housing discrimination by learning whether they are treated differently based on their protected class – race, color, national origin/ancestry, religion, sex, disability, family status or military status...

 Q: Can you give examples of discrimination cases HRAC has worked on?

HK:  Yes, we work with individuals who most often have difficulty because they are not able to easily enter or exit their home because they are disabled. They request what are called “reasonable accommodations” to make it possible for them to use and enjoy their homes.  For instance, if someone is blind and can’t see signs that are posted in their apartment building and there are important notices about repair work or maintenance that are going on in their apartment building, they can come to us for help.   They might want help about writing a letter to their manager, to request a reasonable accommodation to have a telephone call made to them when there is a notice being posted, so they can know the content of the notices they can’t read.  We also receive many complaints from people who have been denied housing because they have children. We receive calls based on race where they might not even get a chance to see a home because a landlord will not return their call based on their accent.

 Q: Most people think of racial discrimination with housing, but is this the biggest issue facing borrowers at this time?

HK:  We are finding that there is still discrimination in mortgage lending, but it is very difficult to determine whether discrimination has taken place because often people don’t know that they are being discriminated since they have no comparison to their experience.  So, we know that it happens in the community, but for each person it’s hard to know that it’s happening to them.  Many people think they have been denied a loan because of their financial situation when in fact they might have experienced discrimination.  That is why we do testing because we can compare each person’s experience in a test with a person in a protected class and a person that’s in control group. More detailed information about discrimination in lending can be found in our recently released report Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Ohio Mortgage Lending.

 Q: Is this problem of discrimination only a City of Cleveland problem or is it a problem in suburbs?

HK: Discrimination happens everywhere.  We will publish the State of Fair Housing in Northeast Ohio on April 12 and unfortunately it will show that discrimination continues in all counties in Northeast Ohio.

 Q: What do you think of pushing a fair strategy to force suburban communities to have the number of affordable housing to match the number of poor people?

HK:  Affordable Housing is crucial to the health of Northeast Ohio. I support the development of affordable housing everywhere in Northeast Ohio.  We are members of Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance and we support their affordable and fair housing goals 100%.

 Q: Who started Fair Housing Month?

HK:  Fair Housing Month was started as away of recognizing fair housing through the country because the Fair Housing Act was passed in April 1968 after the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   Fair Housing Month is now celebrated with many activities in April.  We have an annual Fair Housing Celebration on April 12 that will feature local artist Julia Kuo who has created a video to inspire children in Cuyahoga County to participate in our Youth Art Contest. For more information about the contest and fair housing please see our website www.thehousingcenter.org.  And we are also having a program on April 5, Obtaining and Maintaining Housing: Fair Housing for People with Mental Health Disabilities, for the general public. It is free.

 Q: Do not-for-profits ever have issues with fair housing or is this a problem with for-profit landlords?

HK:  Unfortunately, not-for-profit landlords have issues with fair housing and also governmental organizations sometimes have issues just as private landlords do.  Just as there is discrimination in the large communities we see discrimination in small towns.  So, we try to reach people with workshops for landlords, realtors, and the general public as well as to immigrants who are new to our communities, and we are reaching out to children so that they can learn about Fair Housing as a civil right.

 Q: What do you think would improve your effectiveness if funding were not an obstacle?

HK:   I would do more outreach to the community so we can have more of our information about Fair Housing available to everyone.  This would really enhance the work that we are able to do and inform more of the community. It also would give us more resources to help enforce the housing laws when people have experienced discrimination.  And we could deal with the challenges we know many people experience in hard to reach areas.

Q: What could the City or County do to better support your mission of forwarding fair housing?                             

HK:  Cuyahoga County supports fair housing in many communities through a grant that supports our fair housing work.  It includes testing, education for housing providers, municipal officials and the public, complaint assistance and fair housing ordinance review. We are also preparing a Community Lending Factbook that provides information on mortgage lending in every city in Cuyahoga County.  

 Q: Can you explain inclusionary zoning and how far away are we from moving to inclusionary zoning in Cuyahoga County?

HK: Inclusionary zoning is zoning that includes affordable housing and doesn’t restrict people from living in a community because of their membership in a protected class. Inclusionary zoning is zoning that fosters true integration. Exclusionary zoning discourages people based on their protected class.  For example, limiting the number of residents [allowed] in units could discourage residence by families with a number of children. I hope inclusionary zoning would be the trend for future development in Cuyahoga County.

 Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Cleveland Street Chronicle #19.1 April – May 2012