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No Room at the Inn (Well, Apartment Complex, But, You Know)

Today, the Washington, D.C.-based National Fair Housing Alliance issued a report, Still No Home for the Holidays, that outlines "the housing discrimination that hurricane [Katrina] survivors continue to face this holiday season." It deals specifically with allegations that two apartment complexes -- one in Florida, another right here in the metroplex -- deceived African-Americans trying to rent apartments about "the cost of housing, unit availability and the application process." The local apartment manager vehemently denies the allegations made in the report.

The NFHA alleges that the Crestbrook Apartments complex in Burleson is in violation of the Fair Housing Act, and today, the organization filed a race discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development concerning Crestbrook. And how did Crestbrook get so lucky as to wind up on the NFHA's radar screen to begin with? Well, says Deidre Swesnik, the NFHA's director of public policy and communications, it was just...luck.

Swesnik says this kind of testing's been going on since September 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina. Initially, the NFHA began looking at complexes in Louisiana and Mississippi, but couldn't find any vacant, so it widened the scope of its investigation into such neighboring states as Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and, of course, Texas. The NFHA tested 65 complexes in the Gulf Coast region, and in 2005 actually filed complaints with HUD concerning three Texas apartment complexes, including the Gables State Thomas Ravello and Gables State Thomas Townhomes locally. She says those complaints are still pending with HUD.

This year the alliance did some follow-up testing, which led them to Burleson. "We looked in major cities first, then went outside the metropolitan area," Swesnik says. "We did telephone tests initially and found Burleson because they had information about the complex readily available on the Internet. We could find out what the availability was and what the pricing was."

In other words, the luck of the draw.

The report was compiled after the NFHA used white and African-American "testers" who tried to get housing in the complex. The NFHA says that white would-be renters got their calls to the management office returned quickly and were told about available units. African-Americans who tried getting a place at Crestbrook didn't have their calls returned and, when they did speak when someone at the property, they were told there was no available space and that even if there was, they wouldn't be allowed to rent without first having their credit histories and criminal backgrounds checked. Whites were never told about this particular stipulation.

This is what the report says about Crestbrook Apartments:

At Crestbrook Apartments in Burleson, TX, African-American potential homeseekers did not have their calls returned while White potential homeseekers had their calls returned within hours. Moreover, when African-Americans did speak with agents at this property (after initial phone messages were not returned), they were told substantially different information about available units.

One African-American homeseeker was told that there might be an apartment available in the next few weeks, but the agent did not provide definite information about availability. The agent also told the homeseeker that if she wanted to mail in an application she would need to submit a month of pay stubs to verify that she made three times the monthly rent and qualified for the apartment. A White homeseeker was told that there were apartments currently available and was invited to fax in her application without mention of pay stubs or qualification. In another instance, an African-American homeseeker was told that there would be both a credit check and a criminal background check. White homeseekers were not told of these requirements.

And it baffles Robbie Wheeler, the manager at Crestbrook Apartments. She had no idea what the NHFA even was till contacted by Unfair Park today, and she insists the 20-year-old complex doesn't discriminate. And she disputes some of the report's findings, among them the part about how the complex takes applications by fax. Well, that and the part about how Crestbrook doesn't rent to black people.

"We have African-American people living here, so that doesn't make sense," she says. "I don't know how we can discriminate against a person over the phone and if we have them living here. We're not discriminating. We have all races here. It's whoever qualifies. They do have to make three times rent, and if they don't have their paycheck stubs and have left a deposit, I will tell them to fax their paycheck stubs. But I've never taken a fax application. I always tell them it has to be an original. So, I guess HUD will be getting in contact with me now, which is kinda scary, but I've never been in trouble before." --Robert Wilonsky

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