5th Annual Fair Housing Conference Debriefing

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana‘s (FHCCI) Fifth Annual Fair Housing Conference & Anniversary Celebration at the Marriott East in Indianapolis. In full disclosure, I serve as Secretary of the FHCCI  Board, and helped found the organization. Nonetheless, I think everyone in attendance – and this year we set an all-time registration record – enjoyed the event.

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FHCCI Board and Staff

This year’s theme was No Hate in Our Neighborhood: How Fair Housing Laws Combat Hate & Promote Inclusion. (The program’s design credit goes to Projects Coordinator Brady Ripperger.) It highlights both the fact that Indiana is one of only five states without a hate crime law and FHCCI recently received a large grant from the Open Society Foundations to form a coalition combating hatred.

Because of my professional interest, as well as serving as moderator at the first session, both of the breakout workshops I attended addressed fair housing and disability.  At the first session, Indiana Disability Rights’ Managing Attorney Tom Crishon and Relman Dane & Colfax’s Laura Arandes discussed case law/litigation updates from January 2016 to present. The most interesting part of their session, perhaps, came during the question and answer period, when landlords peppered them with questions about the reasonableness of accommodations. At the beginning of the session, Tom joked that perhaps the audience was so crowded due to settlement agreements requiring landlords to get continuing education about fair housing law. By the end of the session, the joke wasn’t so funny as intended.

Indiana Disability Rights was featured in the second disability-related workshop as well, this time by Legal Director Melissa Keyes. Melissa discussed changes required of home and community-based service providers under new rules promulgated by Medicaid. These rules include, for example, that recipients of services are entitled to a lease and a bedroom with a lockable door. Melissa’s co-presenter, Executive Director of HOPE Fair Housing Center Anne Houghtaling, spoke about how people with disabilities are often affected by landlords’ refusal to consider those with criminal records from rental opportunities. Interestingly, she also shared that she is the individual that wrote the original grant for FHCCI startup funding years ago!

The highlight of the conference (aside from getting surprised with a poster in front of the whole audience at lunch, in recognition for five years of service to the organization) was the morning keynote, delivered by Ise Lyfe. I’d heard him speak last summer, at the National Fair Housing Alliance Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. I can’t really explain how awesome his presentations are – they include things like mathematical poetry – and emphasize the importance of the individual, the importance of participation, and of course the importance of our work.

April is Fair Housing Month. If you’re looking for a way to get involved, consider donating to FHCCI, which provides education and enforcement activities regarding fair housing in Central Indiana. Given our commitment to making the conference accessible to those in the community, registration costs do not cover the full expense of the event. Your donation could help further our activities, including the conference.

Fair Housing Legal Seminar Debriefing

On August 19, I attended the Fair Housing Legal Seminar sponsored by the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana (FHCCI) and Indiana Disability Rights. The Seminar featured Professor Robert Schwemm of the University of Kentucky College of Law. Despite my biased perspective – I’m the Secretary of FHCCI and lead the employment practice group at Indiana Disability Rights – I think the Seminar was quite a success.

First, it’s important to acknowledge the great content imparted to attendees. Professor Schwemm not only provided a comprehensive overview of the Fair Housing Act and its amendments, but also tailored his presentation to the Seventh Circuit. Unlike typical continuing legal education classes, often delivered by current practitioners, the Seminar engaged in academic exercises to challenge participants and get them to consider the future of fair housing law. For example, participants discussed what may constitute a “dwelling” within the court’s consideration.

That’s not to say that the Seminar was merely an exercise in philosophical jurisprudence; Professor Schwemm shared stories about his time as a practitioner, garnering laughter with anecdotes of opposing counsel offering their client a defense on one count while accidentally conceding to having discriminated in other counts. Additionally, Seminar participants had the opportunity to watch videos illustrating the effects of housing discrimination on individuals and communities. One astounding video can be accessed here.

Second,  I would be remiss if I did not mention the accessibility aspects of the Seminar. Five hours of continuing legal education credits were offered for $35. Anyone who is attorney can recognize this is a great deal! The physical accessibility features were also much appreciated. FHCCI staff helped me gather all my paper materials upon arrival, and, along with an Indiana Disability Rights colleague, were happy to move tables so I could fit in the conference room in a location where I would not need to move my head to see the speaker/video screen.

I encourage anyone interested in getting involved in fair housing to consider attending the Annual Fair Housing Conference on April 6, 2017!