Legal Aid programs commemorate Fair Housing Month

Non-profit aims to eliminate housing discrimination

Every April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development commemorates the passing of the Fair Housing Act by celebrating Fair Housing Month. This recognition month highlights fair housing practices and seeks to eliminate housing discrimination.

“Since the Fair Housing Act was passed in the late ‘60’s, housing discrimination certainly has decreased, but it still exists,” said Steven McGarrity, executive director at Community Legal Aid. “We still see it every day in our practice at Legal Aid, from a disabled resident not receiving the accommodations they need, to unfair foreclosure practices affecting entire neighborhoods of mostly minority homeowners. These are priority cases for us, and our housing team works hard to address these issues.”

Legal Aid, along with hundreds of other community organizations, celebrates Fair Housing Month each year by enhancing public awareness of both landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities.

“We offer many workshops and clinics throughout the year,” explained John Petit, managing attorney for Legal Aid’s housing team. “We try to educate homeowners and renters about their rights, but we also work with landlords to educate them about Fair Housing. Our goal is to preempt any discriminatory issues from arising in the first place.”

These community programs include informational classes, sometimes sponsored by local bar associations and held at local public venues such as libraries and community centers. They also include housing clinics, where community members can get information and have the opportunity to receive legal advice if they qualify for assistance.

“The nice thing about these clinics is that people can receive help right on the spot,” McGarrity said. “It’s an opportunity for our attorneys to get out into the neighborhoods and help people where they are, instead of always expecting them to come to us. We reach more and different people that way.”

Another way Legal Aid educates the public about Fair Housing is by offering presentations directly to property owners, landlords, and tenants about their rights and responsibilities. These presentations cover topics including discrimination and the rights of the elderly and disabled.

“Our goal is to offer best practices to both landlords and tenants so that they avoid fair housing claims in the first place,” Petit explained. “This allows us to offer preventative recommendations and avoid legal issues from ever arising.”

Legal Aid also reaches out into the community by working directly with residents or with other community organizations on issues that relate to housing. One example of this was a recent community meeting Legal Aid hosted for residents of a Canton-based housing complex that was closing.

“We try to offer help where it’s needed,” Petit said. “These residents are needing to relocate, and that can be a challenging process, especially those with lower incomes. We offer legal advice, but we can also help connect people with the right tools and resources in the community to make a difficult process a little easier.”

To learn more about Legal Aid’s housing programs, or to see a list of upcoming clinics and workshops, visit www.communitylegalaid.org/events.

Posted: May 3, 2017