Over the past 10 years, an estimated 14 million blacks have moved from the city to the suburbs. While these numbers sound impressive, they only represent 39% of all blacks in America. In Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, lawsuits handled by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs attest to the many others who have hit the brick wall of housing discrimination, despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
As predicted by area academics and public officials, the steady increase of prosperous black families moving to the outermost counties of Washington, D.C., once predominantly white, has not been well received. The racist incidents are not always as overt as the vandals who smeared “KKK” on the house that a black family was about to purchase in the mostly white suburb of Woodland Beach in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, last August.
“Real estate companies and agents often use the tactics of discouragement, steering, and delay to keep African Americans out of certain neighborhoods,” says Attorney Reed N. Colfax, director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing Project (www.washlaw.org). “These tactics may be more than the blatant and explicit refusals to sell, seen frequently in the past, but they still prevent African Americans from purchasing their desired homes and that violates the law.”
Working closely with the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Equal Rights Center, Colfax relies on the financial and human resources of local law firms to help their nonprofit organization handle the 15 to 20 housing discrimination cases they are able to take on per year. There are hundreds looking for assistance.
Claiming a 95% success rate, they recently won $160,000 in a disability discrimination case for Jack Wright, a deaf and blind man who was also awarded a free, two-bedroom apartment for life in the case of Wright and the Fair Housing Council v. Ralph D. Rocks.
Jerry Cromwell and Ricardo Ledbetter, in their present lawsuit, are alleging unlawful and purposeful discriminatory conduct after they each made unsuccessful attempts to purchase $550,000 houses in the Winchester Homes development in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
The Fair Housing Project is also awaiting a verdict on a case filed in April 1998 against Capital City Mortgage Corporation, accused of predatory lending practices targeted at the black community. Eleven years ago, the Reverend Clyde Hargraves, pastor of the Greater Little Ark Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and one of the eight plaintiffs in the case, signed loan papers with the mortgage company.
At the time, Hargraves was literally signing away his property. “We didn’t understand what we thought we understood. We were under the impression that the interest and the principal were both being paid,” he states. Hargraves’ agreement with the mortgage company included outrageous fees and a balloon payment for the $160,000 borrowed, due in full, after five years of only paying interest.
“There was no specific language that identified Reverend Hargraves’ loan as a balloon note. You would have to run the calculation yourself to see what the numbers come out to be,” says