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Greenfield Housing Authority settles bias complaint

  • The Greenfield Town Hall Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Thursday, November 30, 2017

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield Housing Authority has settled a discrimination complaint with the US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regarding preferential treatment of English-speaking, white housing applicants compared to Spanish-speaking Latino applicants.

The complaint was filed last year by the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (MFHC), which alleged that the Greenfield, Northampton, West Springfield and Westfield housing authorities discriminated against Latino applicants by failing to offer housing applications in Spanish and, in some cases, referring Latino applicants to seek language services from other agencies when they needed help.

“MFHC filed these complaints because western Massachusetts has the highest rate of housing segregation between Latinos and whites in the nation,” said Meris Bergquist, executive director of the Mass. Fair Housing Center. She said the state Department of Housing and Community Development notes in its language access plan that broadening access for those with limited English proficiency “is a general Fair Housing principle that must permeate all policies and decision-making of the state funding agencies.

According to Greenfield Housing Authority Executive Director Daniel W. Finn, the complaint against GHA involved one incident that occurred in December 2015. “Regrettably, and certainly not intentionally, our front office staff did not handle the situation correctly based on our LEP (limited English proficiency) policy in place at the time. Since then, a number of staff have attended targeted trainings and we have updated our LEP policy and procedures to reflect the changes required in the report.”

Finn said one lawyer handled the complaint for all four housing authorities, which have all tightened up their language access policies. Finn said state regulations require agencies to have applications in a foreign language if more than 5 percent of that housing authority’s clientele speak that language. He pointed out that less than 5 percent of those applying to the Greenfield Housing Authority speak Spanish, but to be responsive, GHA and the other four authorities now have applications in several languages and have access to interpretive language services.

Under the settlement agreement, the housing authorities must provide notice of the availability of interpreters and provide applications in Spanish, Chinese, Haitian, Creole, Khmer and Portuguese. They must create or maintain a language access plan that is available both at the office and online, mandate staff training and appoint a language access coordinator.

“The agreements signed by the four housing authorities will equalize equal access for applicants who do not speak English well and help break down the barriers that exclude and limit housing opportunities based on national origin and race,” Bergquist said.

Finn added that the settlement is not and was not an admission of liability by GHA or any other housing authority involved. He said the Greenfield Housing Authority “disputed from the very beginning the factual allegations set out in the complaint concerning it.”

“The GHA does not and has not contributed to the alleged segregation in its application processes and does so in a nondiscriminatory manner,” he said.