Civil rights authorities say they've seen a serious uptick in housing discrimination complaints in Massachusetts. Its further fall out from the foreclosure crisis. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
An official with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination says there's been an approximate 20 percent increase in housing discrimination complaints in the state this year. Meris Bergquist, executive director of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center says its the result of a tightening rental market resulting from the foreclosure crisis, and the destruction of hundreds of housing units in last year's storms.
Bergquist says her organization this year has seen an uptick in complaints about housing discrimination coming from the state's five western most counties, which include the cities of Worcester and Springfield.
Springfield lost more than 500 units of housing in last year's tornado. For several years before that natural disaster, Springfield had the highest home foreclosure rates in the state.
Federal and state laws bar discrimination in housing based on several factors including race, family status, and sexual orientation. Massachusetts later this will extend housing protection based on gender identity.
Jamie Williamson, a commissioner with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination said bias in the sale, and more often the rental of housing, can be subtle and not easy to detect.
Authorities will conduct audits of the housing market to try to turn up evidence of discrimination.
The MCAD is planning to closely monitor the rebuilding in Springfield's tornado damaged neighborhoods to assure full compliance with fair housing laws.
Housing advocates have said they're concerned about the un-even pace of tornado recovery. David Gaby of Open Housing of Western Massachusetts, a non-profit housing advocacy group, says rebuilding is lagging in the city's poor and minority neighborhoods.
Rhonda Sherrell lives in the Hill Homes Housing Co-op, a 90 unit co-op apartment building that was heavily damaged by the tornado. 36 of the apartments, including hers remain uninhabitable.
Sherrell says she's filed a complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
More than 250 people from through out New England attended a conference in Springfield Friday to discuss trends in fair housing and civil rights.
Keynote speaker, Sheryll Cashin, a Georgetown Law Professor and author of several books on race relations, said America won't succeed economically without integrated housing.