FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 18, 2023
Alexander Forrest Investments’ no-voucher policy and minimum-income requirement harms Black Memphians
Washington, D.C. — Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (“NFHA”) filed a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) against Alexander Forrest Investments, Inc, (“AFI”) for its treatment of Memphis residents seeking housing opportunities. AFI is a Columbia, MO-based company involved with the acquisition, development, financing, and operation of real estate projects. AFI is believed to operate over 9,600 housing units at multi-family rental properties in 13 states. NFHA’s complaint alleges that AFI discriminates based on race by refusing to rent to people who use Housing Choice Vouchers (“HCV”) in the city of Memphis, TN. The HCV program ensures that people whose incomes have not kept up with rising housing costs can still access stable housing by paying landlords directly for all or part of their rent.
NFHA’s investigation found that AFI advertises online that it does not accept “Section 8” vouchers at its properties. Further, when testers called AFI properties in Memphis, TN to inquire about renting apartments using vouchers, company representatives confirmed AFI does not accept them. Fair housing testing is a controlled method of documenting the quality and quantity of information provided to home seekers by rental firms and their housing managers. Additionally, the investigation found that AFI applies minimum income requirements in such a manner that voucher recipients would likely not be eligible even if AFI were to accept vouchers. In one instance, despite the “no voucher” policy described online, an AFI employee told a White tester the property did accept Section 8 vouchers and then referred the tester to another property when they learned the tester did not meet the minimum income requirement for that particular property. Meanwhile, around the same time, a Black tester called the same property and was given a blanket denial being told flatly that AFI does not accept vouchers.
Landlords, like AFI, who discriminate against HCV holders deprive families of the right to choose the housing that is best for them and increase the likelihood that people will experience housing instability, face homelessness, or suffer other harms. Studies reveal that housing instability contributes to poor health, education, employment, and social outcomes. Further, landlords that refuse to rent to voucher holders frustrate the missions of housing authorities, like the Memphis Housing Authority, who help administer HUD’s HCV program.
The nation is in the midst of a fair and affordable housing crisis with housing experts projecting the U.S. needs an additional 4 million affordable housing units. Moreover, wages have not kept pace with rising housing costs. While housing prices have increased by roughly 160% since 2000, wages have only increased by about 70%.
“Rising rents are putting housing out of reach for millions, particularly low- and moderate-income families and frontline workers who have been hardest-hit by the ongoing COVID-19 health and economic crisis. When real estate companies and property managers deny tenants with vouchers, they are denying people access to safe, affordable housing and the many opportunities that come with that. More protections are needed for renters who rely on housing vouchers, and everyone, including government, must utilize their powers to prevent the unfair practice of discrimination against those who use this vital program,” said Lisa Rice, NFHA’s President and CEO.
As vacancy rates remain near all-time lows, access to safe, decent, and affordable rental housing is imperative. Overlay discrimination, and voucher recipients in Memphis are left out in the cold. The alleged discriminatory practices of AFI are particularly harmful to Black residents who have long been impacted by inequitable policies and practices. Per HUD, 96 percent of voucher holders in Memphis are Black and only 1 percent are White. Additionally, while race is the only federally protected class named in the complaint, NFHA’s analysis suggests additional protected classes, like families with children, may be adversely impacted by AFI’s policies, and NFHA may amend the complaint accordingly.
The investigation leading to this complaint was supported, in part, with funding from a Private Enforcement Initiative grant received from HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program.
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is the country’s only national civil rights organization dedicated solely to eliminating all forms of housing and lending discrimination and ensuring equal housing opportunities for all people. As the trade association for over 170 fair housing and justice-centered organizations and individuals throughout the U.S. and its territories, NFHA works to dismantle longstanding barriers to equity and build diverse, inclusive, well-resourced communities.