Amid the ongoing scourge of gentrification in America, three allies have sued a Detroit landlord and are alleging housing discrimination against prospective renters who are Black. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are non-Black but claim property owners Alex DeCamp and Reimer Priester failed to rent to Black people, depriving existing tenants of “the social and professional benefits of living in a racially integrated society.”
Two of the plaintiffs are a married couple who are former renters at the property and the third is a current renter. Filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan, the suit alleges the plaintiffs are a predominantly white group of residents in the middle of Black community. The trio raised multiple allegations against DeCamp and Reimer and three companies they co-own.
Of the 24 units at a Jefferson Avenue property, almost all are occupied by white tenants according to the filing. From the suit, the plaintiffs alleged that of the 24 units, only four of the tenants predate the building’s purchase and three of them are Black.
In another example, the plaintiffs claimed that a Black tenant of another property owned by the defendants lawfully withhold rent for two months after repeated attempts to get necessary repairs corrected. The tenant ultimately moved out but later had an eviction suit filed against them.
In response to the allegations, a spokesperson for the owners denied discriminating against renters because of skin color and even claimed that the leasing staff person site was Black so there was no way for discrimination to occur. Deadline Detroit reported last month that Priester did not provide a rationale for the racial disparity in his properties, instead pointing to the fact that more white people moving to the area.
Plaintiffs gathered with other tenants earlier in the pandemic to organize around issues related to conditions of their rental units and address concerns to help those who may have lost jobs and could face eviction. Collectively the tenants, including the plaintiffs, raised issues of the properties, lack of lead clearance certificates and certificates of compliance from the relevant local authorities. They claim the owners failed to respond and so they took their concerns to local and state elected officials.
While it may seem strange that non-Black residents are alleging housing discrimination based on living in a more diverse community, a nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court case could give them standing to proceed.
“Many people do not know that the (Fair Housing Act) has two goals,” Brian Gilmore, director of the Housing Clinic at Michigan State University’s College of Law, told the Detroit Free Press about the lawsuit. “One is stopping discrimination in housing but the other lesser known goal and often avoided goal is promotion of a diverse society, in this instance, a racially diverse community.”
Labeled up-and-coming (code language for desirable to white residents), statistics show that the Islandview neighborhood is more than 80% Black. Allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint echo common concerns about gentrification nationwide, including the displacement of existing Black residents.
Another developer in the area hit a roadblock with community members objecting to proposed rents for planned redevelopment projects.
“The problem is the standards, the rubric that people use to determine what’s good and what’s bad doesn’t consider what the community needs or wants,” said Tristan Taylor, a volunteer organizer for the Charlevoix Village Association in an interview with The Detroit News. The residents would rather the property remain vacant than be unaffordable for people in the community.