Express-News Charged With Bias In Housing Ads

Austin American-Statesman, statesman.com, Jul. 23

WASHINGTON—The San Antonio Express-News violated the Fair Housing Act by publishing 42 classified ads that discriminated against potential renters, a federal agency charged Thursday.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development also charged the daily newspaper’s parent company, Hearst Communications Inc., for ads that ran between November 2000 and October 2002 and excluded potential renters based on factors such as race.

“Some newspapers still do not understand their obligations even though the Fair Housing Act has been the law of the land for more than three decades,” said Carolyn Peoples, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity.

In addition to protecting renters and home buyers from discrimination, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to advertise housing that restricts residents—or indicates a preference—according to race, religion, sex, nationality, disability or whether there are children.

Examples of the Express-News ads, as listed in HUD’s complaint, include:

* “Walzen Area, Hispanic or White male pref. to share home . . .”

* “Beautiful historic house in Beacon Hill, See to apprec. No pets/children . . .”

* “Priv home, Christian (nonsmoking) mature female pref . . .”

Calls to Express-News Publisher W. Lawrence Walker Jr. were referred to Hearst, where a spokesman declined to comment.

“We have not yet seen the complaint, so I’m not going to provide a comment until we do read the HUD complaint,” spokesman Paul Luthringer said.

HUD’s civil “charge of discrimination,” which carries a maximum fine of $11,000, began with a complaint filed in April 2002 by the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio, a nonprofit group that receives HUD money to investigate allegations of housing discrimination.

As mandated by law, HUD tried to resolve the Express-News complaint through a conciliation process but was unsuccessful, said Bryan Greene, director of policy in HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Conciliation typically works, he said, estimating that only 3 percent to 5 percent of complaints result in charges, about 60 to 70 a year over the past five years. “A large chunk obtain relief through the conciliation process,” Greene said.

An administrative law judge in San Antonio will hear the charge Oct. 5, unless the newspaper or Fair Housing Council opt for a hearing in U.S. District Court. A federal court also can assess punitive damages, an option not available to an administrative law judge.

Sandra Tamez, executive director of the Fair Housing Council, was traveling Thursday and was unavailable for comment, her office said.

At the Austin American-Statesman, advertising representatives are trained in the Fair Housing Act and often refuse discriminatory ads upon delivery, said George Gutierrez, vice president of advertising. In addition, a copy-acceptance supervisor is always on duty to answer questions about an ad’s legality, he said.

“If we were to accept that copy, it puts us in legal harm’s way, but it also puts that individual in potential litigation as well,” Gutierrez said.

HUD officials refused to discuss whether the people who placed the Express-News ads were subject to investigation, saying the question involved ongoing litigation.

The Express-News is the nation’s 37th-largest newspaper, with a Sunday circulation of almost 360,000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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