In the midst of National Fair Housing Month and the celebration surrounding the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the Federal Fair Housing Act, the Erie County Legislature adopted the County of Erie Fair Housing Law. The new legislation expands upon protections based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children conferred by the national legislation, by barring discrimination in housing against individuals on the basis of their age, marital status, source of income, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status or familial status. A new Erie County Fair Housing board, created by this legislation, will have the ability to hold hearings on housing complaints, among other duties.
“I am proud of the work we did to get this law passed,” said Erie County Legislature Chair Peter Savage. “The people of Erie County believe in fairness and opportunity for all segments of our society. As a community built on the hard work of immigrants and those who started from the bottom, we know better than most the sting of bias. Fair housing policies help to guarantee that everyone will be treated equally when it comes to one of our most basic necessities. I hope that other communities across the state look to our example in Erie County.”
“People may ask why we felt it was necessary to expand protections beyond the scope of the federal law,” said Erie County Majority Leader April N. M. Baskin. “But the voices we have heard from our community tell us there is a desperate need for this legislation. At a public hearing and in a committee hearing, we heard heart-rending stories from members of the disabled community, single mothers using Section 8 voucher assistance, and the transgender community. The discrimination they face is real, and it is hurting all of us.”
“As a veteran, I am proud that we are recognizing that military families and veterans deserve protection from housing discrimination,” Said Erie County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams. “The brave men and women who fight for our country should not have to fight for a place to live when they return home. Their sacrifice demands that our commitment to them continues throughout their deployments and well after their discharge.”
“As we mark the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, it is important to note that much work remains,” said Erie County Legislator Thomas Loughran. “I am proud to join with my colleagues today to improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community.”
“Single parents struggle to provide for their families,” said Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke. “We built our social safety net because we believe our community is a better place when children are safe and cared for. Families should not be denied a home based on their source of income. The idea that someone would be able to deny a child safety and security because they temporarily rely on public aid is offensive and flies in the face of all common sense.”
“For me, the most important aspect of this law is that is creates a level playing field,” said Erie County Legislator John Bruso. As it stands now, there is the federal law, and a handful of communities have their own fair housing statutes. This makes it difficult for landlords and realtors to keep track of what standards apply. Consistency will make it easier for everyone involved in this process. You will not be forced to second guess. The same standards will apply to everyone across our county.”
The law makes it illegal to refuse to sell or rent to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, age, marital status, disability, national origin, source of income, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, immigration status or familial status. It also applies prohibitions against “blockbusting” to all of these categories. Historically, the practice, which played on the racial fears of whites and the homeownership aspirations of African Americans by invoking a scenario of black encroachment in neighborhoods, blockbusters persuaded white families to sell their homes at a loss and in turn sold those homes to black families at a markup.
The law will be enforced through a multi-step process. Complaints will be investigated through the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, which will attempt to resolve the matter. If the matter cannot be resolved by the Environment and Planning or its designated investigator, the complaint will be forwarded to the new Fair Housing Board, which will be comprised of five members, appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the Erie County Legislature. These members will include representatives from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors, a member of the New York Law Center or Neighborhood Legal Services, the Erie County Commissioner of Public Advocacy, the First Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Social Services and one member from Belmont Housing Resources or the Rental Assistance Corporation of Buffalo. The Fair Housing Board will have the ability to refer valid complaints to the County Attorney’s Office, which will seek to impose penalties in court. In addition to fines, penalties may also include the revocation of licenses and permits. Finally, the County Attorney will have the ability to refer matters to the Erie County District Attorney for prosecution.
The law will now go to the County Executive, who will hold a hearing on the measure. If he signs it, the legislation will become effective upon its filing with the New York State Secretary of State.