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Lawsuit: Banning kids at Allegheny County Housing Authority properties is discrimination

March 15, 2018 GMT

Three Allegheny County residents and a nonprofit have filed a lawsuit against the Allegheny County Housing Authority alleging its policy of not allowing children to live in certain units violates the Fair Housing Act, which protects renters and home buyers from discrimination.

The authority has 10 properties where children are not permitted, which violates the federal act, according to Jay Dworin, executive director of the Fair Housing Partnership, the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit involved in the lawsuit filed Feb. 5.

An authority policy that does not allow more than two people to live in a one-bedroom apartment also violates the act, Dworin said.

Under the act, federally funded housing authorities are allowed to designate properties for the elderly but are not allowed to restrict children or anyone else from living in the properties, Dworin said.

“When people are trying to get access to affordable housing, the first thing they do is slice their availability and decrease what is available to them and what they’re entitled to under the Fair Housing Act,” Dworin said. “When someone says, ‘You’re not allowed to access the one-bedrooms,’ that actually makes someone homeless.”

Dashawna Tindall, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was pregnant and living in a homeless shelter in spring 2017 when she joined a waiting list to rent a one- or two-bedroom apartment in Braddock Towers.

She wanted the first space available.

At the end of August, Tindall called Braddock Towers and spoke with a staff person, who told her she was near the top of the waiting list, but she could not live there because children are not permitted to reside at that property.

A few weeks later, she met with the Braddock Towers property manager, who said the same thing, and that she would have to wait for a two-bedroom at another property that allows children.

She has not heard anything from the authority since, the complaint said.

Allegheny County Housing Authority Executive Director Frank Aggazio did not return messages seeking comment.

Tindall and her 8-month-old daughter lived with family members for a while but have been living in a homeless shelter since October, the complaint said.

The lawsuit also includes a couple, Jimmaya Pritchard and Rashad Cole.

Pritchard applied to rent a one-bedroom apartment from the authority in February 2014, the complaint says.

More than three years later, in March 2017, the authority notified Pritchard, who was now pregnant, she had risen to the top of the list for an apartment at Orchard Park in Duquesne.

That property does allow children, but the couple were not permitted to live there because an authority policy prohibits two people and an infant from living in a one-bedroom apartment, the complaint said.

They were put on a waiting list for a two-bedroom unit and have not yet heard back, the complaint said.

Tindall, Pritchard and Cole contacted the Fair Housing Partnership.

The organization conducted “fair-housing testing” from September through November, the complaint said.

In each test, authority representatives told childless couples they could apply for one-bedroom units and told pregnant mothers and mothers with infants they could not, the complaint said.

The authority’s 2017 Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy states no more than two people can live in a one-bedroom, including a child.

The county occupancy policy states every dwelling unit must contain at least 150 square feet of floor area for the first occupant and at least 100 additional square feet of floor area for each additional occupant.

The authority policy does not list the square footage of its one-bedroom units, but according to Dworin, some one-bedroom units are above the square footage limit to allow more than two people under the county occupancy policy.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would prohibit the authority from using this policy in the future, an injunction to give Tindall an apartment, monetary relief, and lawyer fees.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.