Program may abuse housing law

Trumbull County’s leaders should intervene now, before the county and City of Warren launch into a fair housing program that ravishes honest, hard-working landlords.

The nightmares are unfolding in Ashtabula County. Trumbull could be next if nobody steps in to set strict parameters on the program.

Here’s an example of how unfair overzealous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 can get:

Helen E. Grybosky, 81, of North Kingsville, used to rent three units in a Conneaut house to supplement her Social Security income. One prospective tenant said he had a therapy dog. Grybosky, who has a no-pets policy, asked for documentation.

Another prospective tenant told Grybosky she had children. Grybosky, therefore, did not offer the upstairs unit, which has only one bedroom.

It turns out the prospective tenants were actually undercover plants working for The Fair Housing Resource Center in Painesville, which determined Grybosky’s actions were ”violations” of the law that prohibits denying housing based on race, national origin, religion, gender, familial status or disability.

Grybosky now has $100,000 in fines and legal fees. Her punishment includes fines, three hours of fair housing training, writing non-discrimination policies in her leases, and buying an ad in a local newspaper in which she confesses her actions and promotes fair housing.

She no longer rents the house.

There are other landlords who have fallen victim to the resource center’s tactics.

In Trumbull County, Warren Community Development Director Michael Keys is about to start a similar program in the city, and Trumbull County Grants Coordinator Julie Green may start a similar program to serve the rest of the county.

Keys heads the Warren City Fair Housing Commission. He said the city plans to start a testing program by this summer under the direction of Paragon Residential Services in Warren. The company will act as a liaison for the city, like the Fair Housing Resource Center in Grybosky’s case. They will train and supply undercover testers, like the man with the fake therapy dog and the woman with the fake family.

Keys said the testing was the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds and oversees fair housing agencies.

Green works with Community Legal Aid to handle fair housing issues outside of Warren. Green’s group recently met with Donald B. Eager, whose Donald B. Eager & Associates provides training for testers.

”Testing is where the rubber meets the road. It is how we prove discrimination. There’s no other way,” Eager said.

If the testing is conducted like it is by the Fair Housing Resource Center and results in preying on good people, as in Grybosky’s case, Keys and Green better terminate the Trumbull County programs immediately.