Housing rights advocates recently held a symposium for Norristown residents to discuss fair housing laws, housing discrimination, fair housing advocacy, and building code officers.
Angela McIver, chief executive officer for the Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania, said she hopes the public learned something from the symposium.
“Today, experts demonstrated that a fair housing organization that partners with civil rights law enforcement agencies and communities that receive Community Development Block Grant funding can and should work to find common ground for protected classes that must be safe in their homes,” McIver said.
Residents in Montgomery County said they are experiencing housing discrimination from their landlords, both private individuals and franchises.
Anise Robinson and Penny Johnson, who lived in the same apartment complex for many years, both experienced housing discrimination.
“Everything that the landlords are doing, they seem to get away with as long as there’s not holes in the walls, leaks and infestations,” said Robinson.
She researched an ethics code for landlords but realized that it doesn’t apply in Montgomery County. Robinson said she plans to start a coalition for renters experiencing unfair treatment or discrimination by landlords.
Johnson, who has lived above Robinson for four years, said she has experienced unfair rent.
“My landlord is Hispanic and my neighbors are Hispanic as well,” she said. “I have an issue because my Latino neighbors pay $500 a month and I pay $850 each month. All the apartments are one bedroom with the same square footage.”
Johnson said her husband has congestive heart and respiratory issues resulting from mold in their apartment. She filed a complaint last year.
“The door downstairs to our apartment allows rain to come in and now we have mold,” she said. “You can see the mold and smell the mold. I now have respiratory problems and my husband has been hospitalized.”
Jayne Musonye, director of planning and municipal development for Norristown, said one type of tenant complaint is the most frequent.
“The most common complaint is when someone wants to rent an apartment or a house and for whatever reason they figure out in the end it’s because of [who] they are,” she said. “They may be disabled or of a certain race or nationality and they’re not getting it first or the landlord isn’t too keen on renting to them and they slowly but surely realize that something isn’t right and they’ll call the Fair Housing Rights Center.
“The rental population is close to 60% right now, which is fairly high,” Musonye added. “You maybe have 5% of renters experiencing this problem and that percentage is a wild guess. It’s not only rental, this also applies to buying.”