Sun Sentinel interviews HOPE President & CEO Keenya Robertson, Esq. on fair housing protections in Broward County

Finding an affordable place to live can be tough and Broward County commissioners don’t want discriminatory practices to make it any harder.  Commissioners are considering expanding protections to veterans, victims of domestic violence and others who may be having trouble renting or buying to make sure they aren’t being treated unfairly.

“We know that there are some areas where there is still discrimination,” said Commissioner Nan Rich, who is behind the effort to create the new protections.

The federal government prohibits discrimination based on someone’s race, religion, sex, national origin, disability and whether or not they have children. The state includes protections based on a person’s HIV status. Broward already has additional protections covering marital status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, pregnancy and gender identity or expression.

Commissioners on Tuesday directed their legal staff to research what other protections have been enacted in Miami, Miami-Dade County and other local jurisdictions and to come back with recommendations for additional protections in Broward. No date was set for staff to report back to the commission.

Keenya Robertson, president of the HOPE Fair Housing Center serving Broward and Miami-Dade counties, applauded the effort, especially with affordability already putting “serious limitations” on people being able to find adequate housing.  “Making sure we remove any and all roadblocks is just critical,” Robertson said.

Broward’s Human Rights Board has requested the commission include military status as a protected classification through the county’s Human Rights Act, which includes the county’s housing anti-discrimination provisions.  Michael Rajner, vice chairman of the Human Rights Board, said the board has heard reports of veterans having difficulty obtaining housing as the county works to end homelessness among veterans.

Rich said “you’d think that would not happen,” given the service veterans have given to the country. They are deserving of protection, she said.

Robertson said the discrimination needing to be stamped out is “constantly evolving” as organizations uncover new barriers to people getting housing.

Domestic violence, dating violence and stalking incidents often lead to police being called out to a home to protect the person living there, but some landlords will use those police incidents as justification for not renewing a lease or beginning eviction procedures, Robertson said.

Miami-Dade County also protects people based on a person’s source of income. For instance, a landlord may not want to rent to a person paying with a federal Section 8 voucher, Robertson said. But if the voucher covers the rent the landlord is charging, the voucher should not be used as a reason to reject a tenant, Robertson said.