Tucson Black lesbian couple receives $15k over public housing discrimination claim
The city of Tucson paid $15,000 to settle a discrimination claim lodged by a Black lesbian couple who were living in one of the city's public housing units and alleged they were harassed by a neighbor. The couple said the city didn't do enough to resolve the matter; officials deny they discriminated against them despite the settlement.
The couple, who were living in public housing owned by the city, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in May, saying their neighbor was harassing them and city officials failed to respond. Tucson officials deny they discriminated against the couple, whose identities were redacted in federal settlement documents released by HUD, despite the city paying out the settlement.
Liz Morales, Tucson's Housing and Community Development director, said the incidents took place in a multi-family housing unit.
“The issue really stemmed from a stereotypical neighbor dispute,” she said. “People who live close tend to have disagreements and arguments.”
The complainant first went to the city to file a claim about harassment by her neighbor, identified by HUD as Margarita Romero-Avayo, but then later felt the city's property manager, Fernando Sanchez, hadn’t handled the issue correctly. She accused the city of discrimination on May 6 in a complaint to HUD, which handled the case until a conciliation agreement was reached on Sept. 21.
The location of the housing complex was also blacked-out to protect the complainant's privacy in the information released by HUD. TucsonSentinel.com was not able to identify the couple in order to interview them about their experiences.
In the settlement, the city denies they violated the law and Morales echoed that.
“We definitely did not discriminate,” she said. “As a landlord, we really hold tight to fair housing. We really want to treat everyone the same and are definitely respectful of diverse people.”
City officials acknowledged they “have helped her a little further to address these issues,” referring to the complainant, who is still a resident of Tucson's public housing.
Morales said they hope to continue to support the complainant and “make sure she’s OK.”
“From our point of view, we were super concerned with the experience of the tenant,” Morales said. “We went into the agreement because we knew what she went through was really hard. Our property management did the best they could. I think from her perspective, she felt that they could have done things better, and we can always improve.”
The city manages over 2,000 apartments and other public housing units, Morales said, and “sometimes they miss things.”
Tucson City Code requires the city's Office of Equal Opportunity Programs to investigate complaints made in connection to matters of employment, public accommodation and housing. The complaint was handled by HUD as a Civil Rights Act of 1968 violation.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.