The Mansfield Housing Authority (MHA) has reached a settlement of $180,000 for allegations of discrimination based on race. The settlement was announced by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center on Aug. 30.
The case was brought forth by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center on behalf of Equalla Jenkins, who was denied access to a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher by the MHA in 2014. Although she was eligible for the program according to both state and federal law, she was refused access. The Housing Choice Voucher program is a federal program that is designed to assist low income families to afford housing in the private sector.
According to federal law, housing authorities such as the MHA receive federal funds on the condition that they be used for the voucher program. The Mansfield Housing Authority in particular is responsible for implementing this program in the towns of Mansfield, Ashford, Coventry, Willington and Chaplin.
Jenkins, who is African American, had made it through the initial stages of the application for the voucher program, but was ultimately denied due to policies of the MHA. Particularly, the housing authority had speculated that she would be unable to maintain her job in Middletown from the Mansfield area. Although Jenkins had made plans for getting to work, the MHA had required her to provide proof that she had a car.
In the formal complaint filed against the Mansfield Housing Authority, it was alleged that their application policy discouraged African American applicants, and also violated the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 requirements by instituting a minimum wage.
“There were a number of issues that were at play in this case,” Connecticut Fair Housing Center Legal Director Greg Kirschner said. “The housing authority had an improper policy of requiring a people to have minimum income and assuming that she would not be able to keep her job outside the Mansfield area.”
Besides for improper handling of policies, the MHA had also allegedly attempted to discourage particular demographics from applying for vouchers in their advertisements, particularly urban dwellers.
“When they initially opened their applications for Section 8 they included certain discouraging statements in bold letters that Mansfield was a rural area and that there was no public transportation,” Kirschner said.
The Mansfield Housing Authority argued that the reason for the emphasis on these issues was to highlight how living in the Mansfield would be more difficult for urban dwellers
“When challenged on their statements they responded that they wanted to make sure that—in their words—‘urbanites’ understood that it wasn't like living in the city because they were concerned that they would find it was too dark to quite and they wouldn't like living in a town like Mansfield,” Kirschner said. “We believe that those types of statements, the term ‘urbanites’ is pretty plainly to us a code word for people of color, who disproportionately live in Connecticut cities.”
As part of the settlement, the MHA have agreed to develop a fair housing marketing plan as well as to work with Connecticut advocacy group Open Community Alliance to promote a more inclusive policy.
“We engage with housing stakeholders around issues of policies that can advance housing choices,” Open Community Alliance Executive Director Erin Boggs said. “We hope to partner Mansfield Housing Authority to take a look at how voucher programs can reach a broad range of people and how advertising can be done to reach more communities.”
Mansfield Housing Authority Director and University of Connecticut Adjunct Professor Rebecca Fields was contacted for this story, but declined to respond.
“We are focused on setting the stage for a Connecticut that is integrated by race and income,” Boggs said.
Fatir Qureshi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.