Forum looks at fair housing practices in Naperville

<p>File Photo</p>

File Photo

All indications are that Naperville doesn’t have a problem with housing discrimination, and the city’s Fair Housing Advisory Commission wants to keep it that way.

“The Fair Housing Advisory Commission has really doubled its efforts this year,” Commissioner Michele Hilger said Tuesday.

Part of those efforts was the public forum at which Hilger spoke, attended by a small group of citizens at the Nichols Public Library in Naperville’s downtown.

April is recognized across the nation as Fair Housing Month, and Hilger reviewed the history of the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The landmark legislation makes illegal discrimination in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability.

Naperville has its own Fair Housing ordinance, largely based on the federal legislation.

Most housing is covered under the ordinance, except for owner-occupied housing with less than four units, single-family residences sold without a broker and housing for specific groups, such as sororities or fraternities.

A video presented several different scenes depicting activity that would be considered housing discrimination, including people being rejected for reasons of disability, marital status and family makeup.

Hilger also presented information on procedures for filing a complaint if a person thought they were discriminated against by a Naperville landlord or real estate agent.

With Naperville having 52,000 housing units and roughly 141,000 residents, Hilger said it was a “statistical probability” that discrimination occurs, whatever the frequency might be.

Commission member Tom Miers agreed that some level of housing discrimination is likely.

He said that while most people would like to think it doesn’t happen in the modern age, the reality is that “we also know that it does happen … we need a safe environment (for complaints to be heard).”

When Kevin Coyne, former commission member and current member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, asked about the frequency of housing bias complaints, Miers said that the commission has gone quite some time without a complaint.

He said that the complaints seem to come “in waves” and typically are more frequent after the city makes an outreach to the community.

Indeed, Hilger indicated that in the time she has served on the commission, there had been only two complaints filed, one dismissed as unfounded and the other dropped when the complaining party failed to respond to a request for more information.

One person asked if asking for different rents in the same rental property was discrimination. Miers said that rental complexes can legally ask for different rents for different types of units, but not different prices for identical units, based on any of the protected categories.

Another person asked about the legality of high rental prices in an affluent community like Naperville.

“An owner can price it however they want,” Hilger said.

At various times in recent years, Naperville officials have been examining the merits of licensing landlords within city limits, but no decision has yet been made.

“City Council is still looking at it,” Anna Straczek, staff liaison to the Fair Housing Advisory Commission, said.