Austin Tenants Council host Fair Housing Question and Answer Session

Kevin Baxter | Staff Reporter

On April 21, the City of San Marcos hosted a Fair Housing Question and Answer session. The Austin Tenants Council (ATC) gave a short presentation to begin the event.

Beginning the presentation, Alec Rees, Program Director for ATC, explained that April is seen as National Fair Housing month because Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968. Rees further explained the Fair Housing Act and which classes are protected from discrimination.

“The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from discrimination based on seven protected categories: Race, Color, Sex, Disability, Religion, National Origin, Family [and] Familial Status,” Rees said.

A primary goal for the ATC is to help tenants understand their rights.

Rees explained that getting people to understand their rights and the mechanisms in place to enforce them is at the core of what ATC is trying to do.

Rees continued to give examples of some situations the ATC can assist with. Most had to do with accommodating those with disabilities and informing tenants of their rights regarding eviction notices.

The last half of the presentation was for the speakers to take questions from the public. Some of those asking questions over zoom were City Councilmembers Maxfield Baker and Alyssa Garza.

Rees stated that most of the information to help promote the ATC can be found on their website.

“It’s [the website] probably the easiest place, but we hand out literature at all of our events when we table, and some of it’s at the library,” Rees said. “I’m not quite ready to roll it out yet, but Angelique and I are in the process of working on a community advocate program where we would do something similar to what you’re talking about. We would have our literature available for folks to hand out at their community meetings within their own groups, to their neighbors.”

During the Q & A period, Councilwoman Garza commented to reach out to her at agarza@sanmarcostx.gov with any stories and feedback. Rees also commented that ATC would send any callers from San Marcos her way.

According to Giovanni Zamora, Fair Housing Testing Coordinator at ATC, they have received more calls than usual from San Marcos. There were two in the last month.

Regarding who the ATC can help, Giovanni added, “As long as we can try to tie it to one of the seven protected classes, we usually can help. Unfortunately, several students have encountered issues with roommates that if there’s no way that we can tie it to the Fair Housing Act. If it’s not one of the classes covered under the Fair Housing Act, we cannot move forward. We try to advocate, educate, and give them other resources.”

Rees echoed Giovanni’s point and added that the ATC has a robust registry of other resources to point people to if they can’t assist them because their issue isn’t covered under the Fair Housing Act.

Near the end of the session, Rees restated the seven protected classes under the Fair Housing Act and noted that these classes could shift slightly under different presidential administrations.

“Sex, for the moment, under the Biden administration does include sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the Trump administration, it did not,” said Rees. “Again, race, color, sex, disability, national origin, familial status, and religion.”

If you wish to get in touch with the Austin Tenants Council or read up on tenant rights, their website is here.

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