City Looking At Updating Its Fair Housing Code

New proposals would allow videoconferencing during housing discrimination hearings.

Frederick, Md (KM). The City of Frederick is updating its housing discrimination ordinance. The Board of Aldermen reviewed the proposal during Wednesday’s workshop.

It keeps sections in the code which outlaw housing discrimination based on race, age,gender, gender identity, source of income and other reasons.  But it adds sections saying a housing discrimination complaint can be filed with the city’s Fair Housing Commission within one year of the alleged violation. The Commission can determine whether the facts in the case, if presumed to be correct, constitute a violation of the fair housing ordinance. If it’s presumed to be true, a hearing must be held within 14 days.

One new item would allow parties in the dispute to present their testimony through videoconferencing, or “Skyping.” “I will say that I think that will become more and more common in all kinds of contexts  as time goes on,” says Rachel Depo, Assistant City Attorney.

But Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak had some concerns about teleconferencing. “I do agree that it’s going to become more common, and I’m fine with that. And where it’s appropriate and where it’s not appropriate. We’re not talking about an abusive spouse here,” she said.

Kuzemchak said she uncomfortable with holding a videoconference rather than requiring all sides to show up in person because there’s no one-on-one contact. “If we had this down to the point where we could do it and it would be like people are in the room, that would be great. But we can’t,” she said. “Just because something’s available doesn’t necessarily mean it should be used. It’s appropriate for certain circumstances. I’m not sure this is one of those.”

Alderman Josh Bokee said he was happy with the videoconferencing option. “I think the videoconferencing piece has been well thought out by the Commission and the staff on how it would be implemented,” he said.

The new proposals in the ordinance says  the chair can grant a request for videoconferencing if a witness is unavailable to testify in person.

During their workshop, the Aldermen were told that there has only been one housing discrimination complaint over a 16-year period. “I want to take it seriously, but I don’t want to over analyze something that we might use once every 15-years,” said Alderman Michael O’Connor.

No date was set for a hearing on the proposed changes to the ordinance.


By Kevin McManus