EXCLUSIVE: HUD Civil Rights Investigation of AHA Continues

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(APN) ATLANTA — The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has officially processed two complaints made by resident association leaders, Diane Wright and Shirley Hightower, of Hollywood Courts and Bowen Homes public housing communities, respectively, according to documents concerning the investigations obtained by APN.

What was originally a joint complaint by the two resident leaders, both officers on the Resident Advisory Board (RAB), has been split into two separate complaints on behalf of each individual, APN has learned.

Wright’s complaint has its own case number and is called “Wright, Diane v Atlanta Housing Authority.”  HUD prepared its own two-page summary of Wright’s complaint, according to a copy obtained by APN.

Additionally, each of the complaints is being investigated by two separate offices: both HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity.

“Your complaint, alleging one or more discriminatory housing practices, was officially filed on 09/20/07 as a complaint under the Federal Fair Housing Law… Additionally, the complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964… that prohibits discrimination on the ground of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance,” James Sutton, Regional Director of HUD FHEO, Region IV, wrote in a letter to Wright dated September 20, 2007.

The respondent, AHA director, Renee Glover, had the right to respond within 10 days, the letter says.

“Our responsibility under the law is to undertake an impartial investigation and, at the same time, encourage all sides to reach an agreement, where appropriate, through conciliation,” the letter says. “We will conduct an impartial investigation of all claims that the Fair Housing Act has been violated.”

Law requires the FHEO to complete the investigation within 100 days, the letter states.

“If the investigation indicates there is not evidence establishing jurisdiction, the case will be dismissed. At any point you can request that our staff assist you in conciliating (or settling) this complaint with the respondent(s),” the letter states.

“If the case is not resolved, we will complete our investigation and decide whether or not the evidence indicates that there has been a fair housing violation… The Department will issue a determination as to whether there is reasonable cause to believe a discriminatory housing practice has occurred,” the letter states.

“If our investigation indicates that there is reasonable cause to believe that an unlawful discriminatory housing practice has occurred, the Department must issue a charge… In either event, you will be notified in writing,” the letter states.

“If the determination is one of reasonable cause, the notification will advise you and the respondent(s) of your rights to choose, within 20 days, whether you wish to have the case heard by an Administrative Law Judge, or to have the matter referred for trial in the appropriate US District Court,” the letter states.

“Under federal law, even if the Department dismisses the complaint, you still have the right to bring an individual suit under the Federal Fair Housing Act,” the letter states.

A second letter to Wright dated September 24, 2007, states that under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the complaint is being investigated by the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity (CEO).

The letter does not specify, but implies that this means a second investigation is occurring with the Georgia CEO, on top of the investigation under the HUD FHEO.

Wright says she has not spoken directly with HUD or the CEO since the complaint was filed, but that this is the understanding conveyed to her by her pro bono attorney, Lindsay Jones, of Emory University School of Law.

“They have their own separate process, but it [originally] was put into one package. They broke it up,” Wright told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview.

APN previously reported that the complaint was on behalf of the RAB Board, because Wright and Hightower’s names were at the top of the complaint, listing their leadership titles on the RAB Board: President and Treasurer, respectively.

“I asked him [Jones] if he did the complaint for all the communities, and he said yes,” Wright said.

However, Wright and Hightower stopped working together several weeks ago after they had personal disagreements and differences over strategy.

At one point, Jones notified Wright that she and Hightower would have their own individual complaints, Wright said.

The RAB Board still has an opportunity to file its own complaint, Wright said.

HUD has already told APN they will not comment an on ongoing investigation.

Wright had to send in to HUD a signed form attesting her complaint was true, which she has now sent in, she said. She also signed a release of information so Jones can speak with HUD on her behalf, she said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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