A federal lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department alleging racial discrimination by the Housing Authority of Ashland was settled by consent decree in U.S. District Court on Thursday, with the defendants agreeing to pay $275,000 in damages to 23 current or former tenants, according to the consent agreement.
The lawsuit was originally filed in late 2020 and alleged that the Ashland Housing Authority maintained “largely segregated housing” for low-income communities that purposely steered residents inside communities based on race. The consent agreement formalized this week also resolves claims made by the Justice Department against Southern Development Company of Ashland, the private owner, and agent for two of the eight housing communities managed by the Ashland Housing Authority, according to a statement from the Justice Department.
“Racial steering is a patently unlawful practice that destabilizes communities, fuels racial tensions, and perpetuates modern-day racial segregation in communities across the country,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division in a statement on Thursday. “Racial steering violates federal law, and runs contrary to the principles of equal housing opportunity that animated the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought to bring an end to practices that locked Black people out of certain communities. This resolution should send a strong message to housing providers — both public and private — that they will be held responsible when they engage in unlawful conduct that violates the Fair Housing Act.”
Over 100 former and current tenants were interviewed by the Justice Department, with individuals repeatedly highlighting the “deep psychological stigma and harm suffered by hundreds of Black families who have lived in segregated housing for generations,” according to the Justice Department.
As part of the consent decree, the defendants in the case must reach out to a group of approximately 145 individuals, a majority of whom are Black, who were not placed on waitings lists for two predominately white properties that the defendants steered them away from due to their race, according to the Justice Department. Ashland Heights I and Ashland Heights II are located in white neighborhoods and are two of the four white communities that Black applicants were turned away from.
“The consent decree entered today ensures access to housing opportunities for individuals and families without fear of discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama. “My office will continue to devote resources to vigorously pursue housing providers who deny equal housing opportunities to applicants or separate tenants based on their race.”