I’ve written before about the dialing for dollars phenomenon in Fair Housing Act claims (click here) and about how cheap standing facilitates litigation aimed more at profit than progress (click here). There is good news on both fronts from the Texas Workforce Commission, which recently dismissed several FHA complaints because the organization that filed them, a private corporation called Fair Housing Advocates, could not demonstrate it had standing. Fair Housing Advocates is operated by Patrick Coleman, one of the two owners of City Vision, a similar organization devoted to making money by means of HUD complaints. Citi Vision appears to have abandoned the dialing for dollars business earlier this year, probably because TWC started dismissing its complaints for lack of standing.
As background, in order to have standing to file a complaint under the Fair Housing Act an organization must show that it meets the same test as an individual; that is, the organization has suffered an injury, the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct, and the injury can be redressed through judicial action. Ass’n of Cmty. Organizations for Reform Now v. Fowler, 178 F.3d 350 (5th Cir. 1999). Organizations meet these standards by showing “diversion of resources” and “frustration of mission.” These refer to the an organization having to divert its resources to combat particular instances of discrimination and the frustration of its mission by those particular instances of discrimination. There are limits, of course. Injuries cannot be self-inflicted; in particular, the cost of litigating a claim cannot give rise to standing to litigate that claim. The cost of advancing the general goals of the organization are also insufficient to give rise to standing because those costs are usually not fairly traceable to the conduct of a particular defendant.
In a typical complaint, Fair Housing Advocates alleges in general terms that it has suffered diversion of resources and frustration of mission injury, but it provides no detail. It does not provide detail because it cannot. I have not yet obtained the TWC records, but I am reasonably sure that a look at the financials of Fair Housing Associates would show that by far the largest share of its revenues go to paying its owners and employees to make the calls that generated that revenue. That was the suggestion I made to the TWC in a July 16 letter that preceded the recent dismissals.
This is clearly good news for apartment owners and managers, but it is also good news for all disabled individuals who may be seeking reasonable accommodations for their disability. Organizations like City Vision and Fair Housing Advocates that exploit a public law for private gain create an atmosphere in which the truly disabled are viewed with suspicion, and every request for accommodation is seen as a potential trap. Findings like those of the TWC will force these organizations to either go out of business or began trying to do some real good, either of which is a win for the disabled.