Group alleges discrimination in housing

Black testers rebuffed at mobile home park, organization says

October 14, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a fair-housing advocacy group, has filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that three of its African-American testers were rebuffed this year when they asked about trailers for sale or rent at a Finksburg mobile-home park while white testers were told of available slots.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last week seeks a court order forbidding racial discrimination and unspecified damages against Todd Village LLC, with a corporate address at 10706 Beaver Dam Road in Cockeysville.

The trailer park, with about 18 acres, sits in front of 160 acres of mostly open land, beside the Gerstell Academy at 2500 Old Westminster Pike, a private school incorporated in 1996 by Dr. Frederick G. Smith, a dentist and a vice president of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.

The open land was purchased about a year and a half ago by the nonprofit Freven Foundation, Smith said. The foundation was established to generate funds for the school, which opened in 2002.

Smith bought the trailer park, Todd Village, several months later, he said.

"I don't know about it," Smith said of the allegations. He said he planned to talk to his attorney and the park manager but didn't know whether there were any black residents.

But, he said, "there's virtually no turnover. Those people have been there 30 years. ... I don't get it."

Plaintiffs Hyacinth Walker, Karl Starks and Rhonda Henderson, all of Baltimore, were black testers for BNI and were uniformly told that no vacancies existed, in contrast to white testers, who were told of several available sites, according to the lawsuit.

Acting upon information received in April, BNI said it sent white and black testers to the park in April, then again in August, to ask about the availability of trailers or slabs upon which to place a new trailer.

"White applicants seeking to live at Todd Village were told of several available opportunities, while African-American applicants were told of none," the lawsuit alleges. "The operators of Todd Village intentionally gave the testers this disparate treatment in order to discourage African Americans from living at Todd Village."

A woman at the trailer park who identified herself only as Jackie, the manager, said there have been no black applicants - and no vacancies at the park - all year. She attributed the complaint to a disgruntled tenant who was moving out and had told a neighbor she planned to complain.

"I have been filled up all of 2004," the manager said, with only one place for sale that a couple of people looked at. "I never had any blacks come in."

"Somebody's going to turn the tables on this group," she said. "No blacks applied. If anybody comes and says they have, they have lied."

Since enactment of the Civil Rights and Fair Housing acts, BNI attorney C. Christopher Brown said, "major strides have been implemented in eliminating discrimination in housing. Unfortunately, one exception might be that the farther out from the metropolitan area you get, the less that's so."

While BNI has found increasingly that racial discrimination is "very subtle and difficult to detect," Brown said, Todd Village "tested explicitly positive" or "old-fashioned: offering no real possibilities to blacks but at the same time offering places to live to whites."

Carroll County zoning officials have been eyeing the 160-acre property for a new zoning designation and use as an employment campus zone - an idea Smith has said he supports.

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