Fair housing group uses carrots as well as sticks

May 15, 1994|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore-based fair housing group is taking a new tack in its long-running fight against discrimination.

After more than a decade of filing lawsuits against builders, developers and publishers to force compliance with federal fair housing laws, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. is recognizing one builder's efforts to promote fairness, hoping others will follow the example.

BNI has chosen Ryland Homes Inc., the Baltimore area's largest homebuilder, and the Bomstein Agency of Washington as the first recipients of a fair housing award, based on Ryland's real estate advertising.

The campaign stands out because it includes pictures of members of minority groups, said Martin Dyer, BNI associate director. Advertisements with human models must portray minorities in proportion to their numbers. For example, African-Americans should be shown in one in four ads because they make up 26 percent of the metropolitan area's population.

The Ryland campaign, which has run in newspapers since 1991, shows photos portraying white, African-American, Asian and Hispanic families -- many with children.

"Minorities who had been ignored are represented in these ads in ways that suggest these people are welcome at Ryland Homes," Mr. Dyer said. "They show [the use of human models] can be done effectively and in compliance with the law."

During the 1980s, fair housing groups and individuals filed numerous lawsuits charging that ads displaying white models discriminated against minorities.

For the most part, builders and developers stopped using human models. Many builders found the regulations confusing and feared that ads showing people could indicate race preferences, said Joanne King Williams, executive vice president The Bomstein Agency. Others couldn't afford models, which add anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent to production costs, she said.

"We've seen a major shift away from using human photos in real estate advertising," said Clark Turner, president of Home Builders Association of Maryland. "It's hard for the smaller builders and probably the smaller ad agencies to be clear on what's required."

Ryland has always used models in various ad campaigns over the years, said Anne Madison, spokeswoman for Ryland.

"We found it to be more effective as long as you also show the type of home, floor plan and location," she said. "We wanted to go one step further and show the lifestyle that could be afforded by purchasing a home in our community."

The Ryland ads also make proper use of the Equal Housing Opportunity logo, which often appears smaller than required by law, Mr. Dyer said.

BNI began monitoring advertisements in newspapers and magazines during the 1970s and found only white models appearing in real estate ads, Mr. Dyer said.

In 1990, the group filed five lawsuits against real estate developers and builders of apartments and condominiums, charging them with failing to represent minorities in ads.

Cases against St. James condominiums, the Towers at Harbor Court and Owings Chase Apartments were settled.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against Sterling Homes Corp., a developer of townhouses in Pasadena, was dismissed.

Last December, Winchester Homes Inc. was ordered to pay more than $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages to BNI and a black woman who also was a plaintiff in the case. BNI had charged the builder with using only white models in its Baltimore area advertising in the late 1980s.

Last year, BNI filed three lawsuits against publishers charging them with running ads discriminating against families with children. Two lawsuits have been settled and one is pending, Mr. Dyer said.

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