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Parties settle in housing case

Friday, May 13, 2005

NORTHAMPTON - A Northampton man who said his landlord discriminated against him by refusing to accept a rent voucher has won a settlement in the case, according to fair housing advocates.

Wilton Hall, a resident of the Prospect Street Apartments, filed a complaint in the Massachusetts Housing Court against the property's former owner, George Christian, after Christian refused to sign a Section 8 voucher. The vouchers are federal rent subsidies administered locally by the Northampton Housing Authority.

Hall received legal advice from the Housing Discrimination Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes fair housing practices in central and Western Massachusetts.

The complaint was withdrawn after Hall and Christian settled out of court, according to Eric J. Bove the organization's legal director. Under the terms of the agreement, Christian paid Hall $21,000 for damages, lawyers' fees and court costs.

According to Bove, Hall, who receives Social Security disability payments, was already living in Prospect Street Apartments when he received approval for a Section 8 voucher. When he contacted Christian, however, the landlord refused to sign.

"He'd had Section 8 tenants at another building and didn't like working with Section 8s," Bove said of Christian.

The voucher is disability-based, according to Bove. Hall is connected with The Freedom Center, an organization that advocates for people with mental illness.

John F. Burke Jr., Christian's lawyer, disputed the version of events outlined by the Housing Discrimination Project. In a letter to Bove, Burke said the organization misrepresented the matter by saying Christian stipulated the agreement does not constitute an admission of liability on his part.

"In point of fact, it is Mr. Hall who acknowledges that the settlement is not an admission by Mr. Christian of any liability," Burke wrote.

Burke also took issue with a statement by Jamie Williamson, the executive director of the organization, that the settlement should send a message to landlords that it is illegal to discriminate against tenants with disabilities.

"Mr. Christian had no knowledge of this non-physical disability while he was Mr. Hall's landlord," he wrote. "As you well know, one cannot discriminate against a disabled person if one does not know that the disabled person is, in point of fact, disabled."

Christian has sold the property and moved to the West Coast, according to Burke. He settled, in part, to avoid the expense of traveling back to Massachusetts for a trial, he said.


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