Hunting for Fair-Housing Violators

A new advertising campaign, made possible by a federal HUD grant, seeks to educate residents about housing discrimination

By John Riley
Published on July 11, 2012, 6:16pm | Comments

The D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) launched a campaign July 9 to educate District residents about housing discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

As part of the “Fair Housing is Your Right” campaign, OHR will place advertisements designed to look like classified-style housing ads, but that contain discriminatory language highlighted in pink. The ad targeting sexual-orientation discrimination, for example, reads, “Straight Couples Only!”

The language of the ads is intended to be jarring, according to Elliot Imse, policy and public affairs officer for OHR. But it is also designed to call attention to the fact that the D.C. Human Rights Act protects residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, source of income and familial status. OHR is also encouraging residents to report when such discriminatory treatment occurs.

OHR will run the ads in various newspapers and magazines during the months of July and August to reach the specific communities referenced in each ad. For instance, the sexual-orientation ad will run in Metro Weekly, The Washington Blade, DC North and the Washington City Paper, Imse explains. Samples of the ads can be found on the OHR website.

“For some residents, the ads in this campaign will appear to have blatant discriminatory language, whereas other readers may be surprised it is discrimination,” Gustavo Velasquez, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said in a press release announcing the campaign. “Unfortunately, housing discrimination still happens, and we hope this ad can educate both the LGBT community and those who may have lending or rental practices that discriminate against LGBT people.”

The “Fair Housing is Your Right” campaign is funded by a one-year $270,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Fair Housing Assistance Program, which awarded more than $7.5 million in February to state and local government agencies tasked with enforcing fair housing laws throughout the country.

The District came in 11th for the total amount of money awarded by HUD, with the OHR grant ranking as the fourth-highest single amount awarded to any agency. Per capita, the District received more than other states, Imse said.