Probe into Mississippi apartment buildings finds their owners and an employee were discriminating against Black tenants.
The fair housing law in place today started with a series of events the occurred more than a century ago. On January 5, 1866, Illinois Senator, Lyman Trumball introduced a bill that would later become the first civil rights law in the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was initiated to signify that “all persons born in the United States, regardless of race, color, or “previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude,” are entitled to basic rights of citizenship “in every state and territory in the United States.”
Former president, Andrew Johnson, vetoed the bill on March 27, 1866, stating it established “for the security of the colored race safeguards which go indefinitely beyond any that the General Government has ever provided for the white race.” A few weeks later, on April 6, 1866, the U.S. Senate voted to override President Johnson’s veto. Three days later, the House of Representatives coincided with this decision, voting in favor of the bill and officially establishing it as a law.
The act forbids racial discrimination when renting or purchasing private property. A century later, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA) broadened this legislative protection to include not only race, but also religion, sex, familial status, nationality, and disability. On October 17, 2022, the United States Department of Justice made an announcement following the rulings of a racial discrimination lawsuit against a rental management company in Mississippi.
In August, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi contended that the FHA was violated by the defendants when they discriminated against Black prospective tenants. SSM Properties LLC, and Steven and Sheila Maulding, owners of multiple apartment complexes in Pearl, Mississippi, will have to pay $123,000 to resolve the case. Their former rental agent, James Roe, is being subjected to civil penalties as well. Roe was employed by the Mauldings to manage three complexes.
Between November 2016 and November 2017, the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, conducted a series of fair-housing tests to investigate when these were abiding by federal housing laws. Afterwards, complaints were made against Roe stating that when Black individuals pretended to be interested, they were discriminated against.
Roe allegedly told one Black tester, “I can’t put you at Pearl Manor. Them old men’ll have a heart attack. They’ll be thinking I done let the zoo out again.”
The center then reported their findings to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD then carried out a separate investigation and found there was sufficient probable evidence of discrimination. HUD referred the case to the Justice Department and a lawsuit was filed against Roe on behalf of four Black fair housing testers.
The Mauldings, however, claimed to be unaware of Roe’s misconduct and promptly fired him. Their attorney, Deshun Martin, says “The Mauldings were going through health challenges — cancer, heart issues, the loss of a brother — and they were completely unaware of what was happening at their own property with Mr. Roe and these racist acts, they never condoned them.”