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Investigative Post: Buffalo not enforcing its fair housing law

Joed Viera
Gloria Adkins filed a discrimination complaint with the city in 2016. It still hasn’t been resolved. ";

In a city as poor as Buffalo, a lot of people depend on government rental assistance - and that can make it hard for them to find a place to live. There is a local law meant to protect them, but as Charlottte Keith with our partners at Investigative Post reports, it doesn't always work.

Gloria Adkins had gone with a friend to see an apartment in Black Rock, planning to ask the landlord if he had anything else available.

“I let him know that I’m looking for an apartment also, and you know he told me that he did have another apartment and then I possibly could see it later,” Adkins said.

Then came the crucial question. Adkins has a Section 8 voucher under a federal program that helps poor people pay their rent. So she asked: did the landlord take Section 8?   

“From his voice, from his statement , even his whole demeanor, it was like ‘No, I don’t want to deal with Section 8, I feel it’s too big of a hassle and I’m not going to,’” Adkins said.

Most people would have let it go. But Adkins knew that in Buffalo it’s against the law to refuse to rent to someone simply because they receive Section 8 or any kind of government assistance.

“It made me angry, you know, because I had heard that so many times from so many landlords,” Adkins said.

A few days later, she filed a complaint with Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a local fair housing organization. The landlord says he doesn’t recall telling anyone that he wouldn’t take Section 8. But undercover testing showed that what happened to Adkins wasn’t a one-off. When a tester posing as a Section 8 voucher holder asked to see the apartment, she got the same response.

HOME sent these findings to the city. Months went by and Adkins didn’t hear anything. It’s now been almost two years and she’s still waiting to hear back from the city.  

Buffalo passed its fair housing law in 2006. But since then, the city has done little to enforce it, despite receiving at least 25 complaints like the one Adkins filed.

The story produced by Investigative Post, a non-profit investigative reporting center focused on issues of importance to Buffalo and Western New York. For an in-depth version of this story, visit investigativepost.org.

Charlotte Keith joined Investigative Post in September 2014, after graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.