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Fair Housing Foundation Spreads Awareness Through Irvine Workshop

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The Fair Housing Foundation (FHF), a Los Angeles and Orange County-based non-profit, held a free two-hour workshop on housing discrimination and rights at Irvine City Hall on Nov. 9. 

FHF’s mission centers around eliminating housing discrimination and using their platform to educate the public about their housing rights. The organization offers resources such as rental counseling and attorney referrals.

At the Irvine workshop, FHF Community Engagement Director Alicia Nguyen, a former paralegal, presented on a number of topics aimed at raising broad awareness about housing. Nguyen spoke on the history of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, disabled tenants’ rights to reasonable accommodation and the validity of eviction notices. Attendees included realtors and tenants who were able to follow the presentation with guided notes and asked questions within a forum format.

During the presentation, Nguyen explained that federal and California law prohibits housing providers from denying housing based on race, religion, sex, disability, familial status and national origin. Discrimination, according to Nguyen, also exists in forms of advertising, pretending that a unit is unavailable and retaliation against a tenant.

UCI faced a housing crisis earlier this year, in which many students resorted to signing leases with the Irvine Company. Nguyen stated that the selection criteria for tenants, especially for students, is entirely up to the discretion of real estate agents who dominate the housing field. 

“Some landlords are more lenient than others,” Nguyen said during the meeting. “They may only check your record for the unlawful detainer judgment, they’ll rent to you regardless of fiscal score… That’s why it’s important to know these rights as one becomes a tenant.”

An unlawful detainer judgment is a legal case filed by a property owner to a court in order to evict a dwelling resident, and can hinder a potential tenant’s record by inhibiting their credit and dampen their ability to secure housing in the future. Three-day eviction notices may also reflect poorly on a tenant’s record, and they are common practice for situations where rent is overdue, contractual agreements have been violated or when illegal activity and nuisance — including nuisance caused by a tenant’s guests — occurs. Nguyen stressed the importance of awareness of tenants’ rights and protections in order to resolve disputes and identify if discrimination plays a role in how a tenant’s behavior is deemed by a property owner. 

Nguyen also discussed accommodations for physical and mental disabilities. She noted that a housing provider is prohibited from requesting a tenant’s medical records or asking prospective tenants about their disability status. Record verification could be required, however, if the disability is “not apparent.” 

Questions from attendees were taken throughout the presentation. One attendee, who chose to remain unnamed, mentioned a scenario at their living complex regarding an individual with a disability. The individual was allowed to make structural modifications to an existing shower but was told that they must pay to restore the shower to its original form once the lease ended. Nguyen advised that the resident can choose to take up their case in a California small claims court.

FHF provides services like consulting, negotiation assistance and financial guidance for those who are housing-insecure or facing discrimination. The Wells Fargo Foundation “Keeping People Housed” awarded the nonprofit a $83,000 grant in October 2023 to fund the counseling of those “facing eviction or foreclosure,” according to a press release.

Locally, affordable housing is at the forefront of Irvine’s current regional development. Construction is currently underway to create thousands of affordable housing units near Market Place, Tustin. According to the OC Register, the Irvine Company will build 1,261 rental units at the site, 211 of which will be affordable for those earning less than the local median wage, as a part of state housing requirements. By 2029, the city of Irvine aims to create 23,900 new apartment units across six Irvine sites with roughly 63% of these units affordable.

FHF can be reached at its assistance hotline at 1-800-446-FAIR with translation available for all languages and those hard of hearing. For more information, visit www.fhfca.org.

Karen Wang is a City News Intern for the fall 2023 quarter. She can be reached at karenw14@uci.edu.