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Like too many other communities, Buffalo may never be totally free of raw prejudice. But just such grubby prejudice took a deserved blow straight to the jaw the other day when an administrative housing judge walloped one East Side home owner with a $50,000 fine for an unconscionable display of racial bias.

It was the second fine, following one of $20,000 in 1997, for Joseph Gruzdaitis, a Woltz Avenue landlord who has repeatedly insulted African-American renters, or potential renters, with scurrilous slurs and other outrageous action such as spitting at or assaulting them.

The latest fine came after Sheila Stover, spat upon by Gruzdaitis when she asked about a rental he was offering, filed a complaint with Housing Opportunities Made Equal. HOME, in turn, took it to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Aside from the ignorance and blatant bias revealed in the incident, the decision by a HUD administrative judge demonstrates that remedies do exist. The decision honors the role of HOME, a local agency long devoted to fairness in housing. It also attaches a hefty price tag to overt bias.

Some other prejudice in housing is, of course, more subtle. It is more difficult to detect, to prove or to punish.

By assigning the most severe fine possible to this offense, however, HUD demonstrated how seriously it condemns prejudice and underscored its willingness to both punish offenders and warn others tempted by similar misconduct.

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