May 24, 2010

Affirmative Action: City close to updating 37-year-old housing discrimination ordinance

A city committee will have new power to investigate and fine incidents of housing discrimination under an ordinance that's headed to the City Council.

The Finance and Personnel Committee voted 3-0 Monday night to give the city's Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission remarkable new powers. Under the ordinance, the volunteer commission will be able to hold hearings on housing discrimination complaints and fine landlords or homeowners up to $25,000 for violating discrimination laws.

The ordinance essentially localizes housing discrimination complaints that had been handled by the federal government in the past. Federal complaints took months, even years, to resolve. The local ordinance should give city residents a faster resolution to housing discrimination complaints, officials said.

Monday night's vote was a long time coming for Ron Thomas, chairman of the city's Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission. He's waited 17 years for the city to grant the commission some teeth in enforcing discrimination laws. The proposal would update an ordinance that is 37 years old.

"This brings us a heckuva lot closer to today's climate," Thomas said, adding: "Let's get this on the books so we can be a commission that can do something other than mediate, which doesn't work in every case."

Under the ordinance, complaints about housing discrimination in the city could be filed directly with the Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission. The commission would then form a three-person subcommittee to hold a hearing on the complaint, complete with witnesses and testimony. The committee would then make a ruling, which would serve as  recommendation to the full commission. The commission will make the final decision and levy fines for violations.

Assistant City Attorney Scott Letteney, who sits on the commission and wrote the new ordinance, said the proposal gives the commission a "stronger enforcement mechanism."

"It has more authority and strengthens its ground so we can fight discrimination in housing," he said.

"The purpose isn't to take lots of money from people," Letteney added. "It's to end discrimination."

While happy with the new ordinance, Thomas said it was the commission's second choice. It's first choice was to get the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development to sign off on the ordinance and give the city full authority to handle discrimination complaints. But HUD officials sent back the ordinance last year with minor changes - the ordinance almost exactly mirrors federal law on housing discrimination - and now simply won't make any decision on the proposal. Rather than wait for HUD, the commission is attempting to push forward the changes on their own.

Racine would be the only city in the state to take this step, Letteney said.

(Incidentally, and perhaps ironically, the city was making more progress under the Bush administration than they have under the Obama administration. The transition between the presidencies setback work for months, even years, and the city has received little contact from HUD on the ordinance.)

Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II said he would support the ordinance with the public's understanding that discrimination doesn't mean it only helps one group of people. The ordinance actually prohibits discrimination by age, sex, race, color, veteran's status, disabled veteran's status, religion, disability, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, familial status or economic status.

"I hope people clearly understand this is for all 80,000 people in the City of Racine," Shakoor said.

Read the proposed ordinance below:
Racine Finance and Personnel Committee Agenda 5-24-10


  1. Economic status? ECONOMIC STATUS? You mean I cannot discriminate based on whether or not someone can afford to rent a property from me, or whether they have failed to live up to such contracts in the past?


    We need to run any alderman who votes for this out of town on a rail...

  2. Mr.s Thomas and Letteney - you have to admit, there is nothing quite like being in a position to get legislation passed that will guarantee your jobs until the Earth crashes into the Sun.

    I spoke to a building manager in Illinois the other day - a "gentleman" wanted to rent from him and was asked for ID. The manager looked at the man's driver's license and commented that "he was pretty sure that 'Illinois' didn't have only one 'l' ". Good luck Racine building owners and managers!

  3. Anon 7:12, read the ordinance. It defines "economic status" as 'the lawful source of income of a person.' This prevents discrimination against someone because the landlord doesn't like the place the tenant works. That's all.

  4. What about the rights of a landlord to protect his property by refusing to rent to someone who he/she feels will not take care of the dwelling? If a landlord must be forced to rent to anyone he/she does not want to, then that landlord should have the right to inspect the current dwelling of a potential renter to verify under which conditions that potential renter is currently living and the condition in which that current dwelling is being left.

    On average, the landlords in this city spend anywhere from $800 to $5,000 in repairs after many of these people vacate the properties; mostly by eviction. Judgments in excess of $3,000 for damages alone are common in our court system, but security deposits are often less than $750.

    Landlords also have to deal with the areas where many of these people are moving from. Particularly, if the are coming from Jacato Dr. or like areas, they bring the drugs, violence, crime and gang activities with them. But now the city council wants to leave the landlords defenseless and at the mercy of these low-lifes. If this is truly America, land of the free, where does anyone get off telling a landlord who he can or can’t rent to? The next thing you know, they’ll be forcing us to rent to illegal aliens! The left just keeps taking our rights from us and giving this country away to criminals and illegals. It’s time to stop the madness this fall, in 2012 and in the next two upcoming city council elections. People like Ron Thomas, Scott Letteney, Q.A. Shakoor II and anyone else who endorses this nonsense needs to go. Especially this lame-brained pseudo-mayor, dickert.

  5. As an anchor tenant who, along with the other decent tenants in our building, is used as a human buffer to insulate and deal with the problem tenants that the city forces us to accept, I deeply resent this action. We are already swamped with garbage tenants who inflict themselves and their lifestyles upon the other residents of the building. The building owner is in a jam - if he doesn't rent to these cockroaches, they scream discrimination. So he let's them in, they tear the place up for a few months, then he starts the eviction process. This is repeated over and over and over throughout the year. Meanwhile, the decent tenants (NOT the landlord) have to put up with the uproar and violence of the bad tenants. Our building is in constant turmoil because of garbage moving in and out.

    Why does the city of Racine keep telling us that we have to rent to criminals, prostitutes and drug dealers? If you like them so much, YOU live with them.

  6. This is just another way for Dickert to tax landlords.

  7. This was in the works long before Dickert was elected.

  8. I am fed up with being forced to live with animals because someone who I didn't elect and who doesn't reside in my neighborhood says it is "fair." I do not have to accept criminals as my peers and I never will. Enough of the Man shoving our faces into filth and telling us that is who we must be.

  9. I am sorry it does not take over a year to write an ordinance. Dickert is the one pushing this through so he can claim he did not raise taxes, even though he is creating fees. First garbage now this.

  10. It really seems as though you people are saying that it is acceptable for a landlord to discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, color, veteran's status, religion, disability, etc. Surely you don't mean that.

  11. Did we all forget there are already Federal Fair Housing laws that Landlords are already supposed to follow so this is nothing new.....or we just scared the rules might now be enforced?

  12. It is kind of hard for this ordinance to have been in the works for a while since state law just changed allowing Racine to do this. Can the Dickert people just admit when their boy does something? Instead of blaming everyone for anything that goes wrong, man up and maybe people will actually respect you.

    Still waiting on that 10 year plan you promised you already had written.

  13. I would think you can rent to who you want to - especially if you live in the same building. I don't want to rent to people who don't work for a living, stay home all day with friends and kick it while I'm getting up at 5 everyday. I don't want to live with teenagers, loud music and partying in my home. I don't want gang bangers or drug dealers in my home. Government, get out of our homes!!!!

  14. Too bad Anon 5:53 ! People like Thomas and Letteney - and Randolph Brandt - who won't ever have to live in these places will be telling YOU what is "fair".

  15. Why exactly is there no outrage on the profiling that will take place effective 1 June with the mandatory automobile insurance regulations? I, without much thought, can determine who does / does not have auto insurance - not much different from the AZ immigration law.

  16. Brandt is great for telling others that they must accept conditions which he doesn't have to tolerate.