Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Scarlet Letter "F"



by Saint Mark (bio)

A few years back, my family and I were discriminated against. It wasn’t the first time. And it wasn’t until the last time that we learned it was illegal and we decided to do something about it.

Being married with young children seems to be an acceptable reason for discrimination here in Boston, Massachusetts. Fortunately, it’s illegal. However, that doesn’t stop many landlords, leasing agents, housing brokers and the like from refusing to rent or lease apartments to young families.

When my family and I moved to Boston, we found our familial status to be extremely limiting to our housing options. I don’t know if any of you have had this experience in urban centers but in Boston being a young family was like wearing a scarlet letter “F” on our shirts. Young families are the modern lepers in housing circles. Time after time we heard that the apartment couldn’t be rented to us because of “lead paint problems” or that the “neighbors like the building quiet” or that there was “another apartment that we would probably be much more interested in.”

Being novices to Boston living conditions, we thought this limitation to finding housing was definitely frustrating but it wasn’t until a management company out-and-out lied to us that we found out that discriminating against someone because of their familial status was illegal.

My wife contacted a management company regarding a perfect apartment for our family. It was near parks, spacious, and in the community where we currently lived. The broker was cordial and ready to have us view it that day. Unfortunately, at the end of the conversation when my wife let the broker know that we had two young children, the broker abruptly said she “would get back to her.” After not receiving a return call, my wife contacted the broker the next day. The broker said that the apartment had already rented and not only had she rented it but she had rented it to "someone with children." She said this despite the fact that craigslist had a new posting for the same apartment posted that day! My wife had had it. She called me, told me the situation, and had me call to see if I received the same response. When I called, the broker told me I could come by that day or the next to see the apartment and rent it if I liked. After hearing what had happened, my wife was on a mission. She talked to people. She called various city services. She googled all she could to find out if there was anything she could do to fight for our rights. And it turned out, there was.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) enumerates all of the groups for which it is illegal to discriminate against for housing. Our applicable category concerned “Tenants and Homebuyers” which states:

Massachusetts landlords and realtors are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, handicap (disability), sexual harassment, sexual orientation, marital status, children, retaliation, veteran status, or public assistance.

Look here for the entire list. My wife contacted MCAD and found out how she could file a complaint. We filed it, had a mediation with the offending company, and reached a reasonable settlement. Reasonable for us because it compensated us for missing out on housing we should have gotten. Because we were so limited in our housing choices, we ended up having to move miles away from the neighborhood we had grown to love. It was reasonable for the company because they didn't have to go through a full trial. And it was reasonable for justice because it deterred the company from discriminating against families in the future. Needless to say, they were very concerned about our complaint becoming public because of the negative repercussions of being seen as anti-family in our community and in their ancillary business pursuits.

If you have been discriminated against because of your familial status, please share your experiences. Couples with children and especially Latter-day Saints (because we seek to fulfill the Lord’s injunction to “multiply and replenish the earth”) are susceptible to discrimination for many reasons. For more information on your rights in Massachusetts, go here or google comparable programs in your home state. As the father, husband and "provider" of our home, I found it extremely disheartening to not be able to get the housing we wanted just because my innocent children were alive and members of my family. As my wife and I found out, if we don’t speak up for our rights as families, no one will.

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