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Settlement Eliminates Discriminatory Local Residence Requirements

Relman, Dane & Colfax is pleased to announce that its clients—Crystal Carter and Connecticut Fair Housing Center (CFHC)—have settled their housing discrimination case against the Winchester (Connecticut) Housing Authority (WHA). WHA has traditionally served 17 towns in northwestern Connecticut, a part of the state that is overwhelmingly White. This landmark settlement does away entirely with local residence requirements and preferences that discriminate on the basis of race and national origin. The Consent Decree, entered November 14, 2013, by the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, provides for comprehensive relief for Ms. Carter and for CFHC, and requires WHA to pay $350,000 in damages, attorney’s fees and costs.

The Complaint alleged that WHA intentionally discriminated against people of color, and that its residency requirement had a disparate impact. Ms. Carter, an African-American single mother of six children, claimed that WHA refused to accept her application because she lived outside WHA’s traditional service area. WHA also discouraged her in other ways, insisting there were no jobs or public transportation in Winchester, and that Winchester was “in the woods.” Instead, WHA steered her to Voucher programs in urban areas, such as Bridgeport or New Haven. As a result of WHA’s discrimination, she and her children remained homeless, slept on the floor of her father’s home, or shared a single motel room provided by the Department of Children and Families.

Through testing, CFHC confirmed that WHA used a residency requirement that entirely precluded prospective applicants who do not already live in WHA’s service area. As a consequence, the complaint alleged, WHA’s policies perpetuated segregation.

The Consent Decree prohibits the use of residency requirements or preferences, and requires WHA to treat equally all applicants—regardless of the town in which they reside—for purposes of the Voucher program. Since the filing of this lawsuit, Ms. Carter has successfully obtained a Housing Choice Voucher from another housing authority and used the voucher to obtain safe, suitable housing. She will also receive monetary compensation.

The litigation team was led by John Relman, Jia Cobb and Timothy Smyth of Relman, Dane & Colfax and Greg Kirschner of CFHC.

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