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Apartment complex is accused of discrimination against blacks

A West Seneca apartment complex has been slapped with a federal housing discrimination lawsuit by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office for allegedly treating potential tenants who are African-American differently than whites.

The suit, filed last week, takes aim at the Royal York Garden Apartments at 3266 Seneca St., which has about 250 units.

Earlier this year, Spitzer's office teamed up with the civil rights nonprofit organization Housing Opportunities Made Equal to test Royal York's leasing practices, as part of the attorney general's statewide campaign against housing discrimination.

"The Royal York Gardens had come to our attention," explained Scott W. Gehl, executive director of HOME, based in Buffalo. "We suggested [it] as a possible site of investigation."

Over the summer, three pairs of potential renters with similar financial profiles were dispatched to Royal York to inquire about renting apartments.

The undercover operation showed that the African-American apartment seekers were treated differently than the white ones by the apartment's rental agent, Spitzer's office said.

The allegedly discriminatory actions included refusing to show blacks apartment units shown to whites; denying an apartment was available for rent to blacks while saying it was to whites; and encouraging whites to apply while not urging blacks to do so, according to Spitzer's office.

"Blacks were consistently treated differently," Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey K. Powell told The Buffalo News. "They were deprived of the opportunity to really progress through the apartment."

The lawsuit -- which seeks an injunction against Royal York Gardens to stop its discriminatory behavior as well as a financial penalty -- was filed after Spitzer's office said it tried unsuccessfully to resolve the matter with the apartment management.

A woman who answered the phone at the Royal York Gardens office Tuesday said the management had "no comment at all."

Gehl said lawsuits can be an effective way to stop housing discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities.

"This certainly focuses a greatly intensified light on what most people prefer to believe no longer occurs anymore," said Gehl, pointing out that the 2000 census showed the Buffalo Niagara region was the seventh-most-segregated metropolitan area in the country.

"We didn't get that way by accident, nor do we stay that way by accident," Gehl said.


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