The Housing Authority for the City of Annapolis, Maryland, is calling for a judge to dismiss a federal complaint on the grounds that the city’s African-American public housing residents chose to live in apartments that don’t require routine inspections or licenses.
Additionally, the piss-poor conditions of these homes are not exclusive to Black residents — so therefore, there’s no racial discrimination, attorneys for the city argued last week.
The Capital Gazette reports that lawyers representing Mayor Gavin Buckley, the city and the city’s housing authority raised these and other arguments in response to an extensive lawsuit accusing city leaders of turning a blind eye to dangerous and derelict conditions at its public housing properties.
The suit, filed by attorney Joseph Donahue on behalf of 29 public housing tenants, accuses HACA of treating Black public housing tenants differently than white ones. The city’s representation denies this, however, and said Donahue’s complaint fails to prove any such discrimination.
“There is no allegation that the Caucasian residents in HACA housing are treated differently than African-American residents in HACA under [the] policy at issue,” a lawyer for the housing authority contended. “The City’s licensing actions did not have a racially disparate effect.”
The 29 residents of five properties owned and managed by HACA allege in their lawsuit that the city has much lower health and safety standards for its public housing properties compared to its other rental properties. The complaint argues that Annapolis public housing is primarily occupied by Blacks, thanks to urban renewal policies that led to the demolitions of several African-American communities decades ago.
Moreover, the city’s decision to look the other way as its public housing properties fell into disrepair has left residents to deal with mold, sewage leaks and extensive water damage, among other issues, according to the lawsuit.
Of the mold, HACA attorney Carrie Blackburn Riley wrote that while the growths may be “unsightly and undesirable,” the tenants have shown no legal “right to be free of it.”
“It is undisputed science that mold and humidity are ubiquitous in the ambient air,” Riley added. “(Tenants’) demand that HACA exclude the natural environment out of Plaintiffs’ home is unreasonable and not supportable.”
In their complaint, the residents pointed out that Annapolis doesn’t license or inspect HACAs properties yet requires any other landlord to complete an the inspection process in order to obtain a license to rent their properties.
Attorneys for the city don’t deny this, but say the longstanding practice — as arguable as it is — is completely legal and has been for some time.
As reported by The Capital Gazette: “The city’s and HACA’s attorney’s argument is based on a segment of the Maryland Housing and Community Development Article, which authorizes local governments to ‘make exceptions to its sanitary, building, housing, fire, health, subdivision, or other similar laws, rules, regulations’ for housing authority properties.”
In their rebuttal, the city’s attorneys noted that the General Assembly left the determination of “how and when to apply its code, rules and regulations” to the discretion of the housing authority. They also pushed back against residents’ claims that the mayor conspired with HACA officials to decrease the quality of the housing and suspend inspections.
Riley criticized Donahue’s lawsuit, writing: “No benefit would be served by forcing HACA, a government funded entity, to pay punitive damages.”
Donahue declined to comment on the arguments made by the city’s and HACA’s attorneys, according to the Gazette, but said his clients are still hoping and waiting for meaningful change.