Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Open Communities lawsuit alleges racial, income-based housing discrimination

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Illustration by Olivia Abeyta
The lawsuit, filed Monday, is the result of a six-month investigation conducted by Open Communities.

Open Communities, an Evanston-based nonprofit advocating for fair housing, has filed a federal lawsuit against nationwide property management company Harbor Group Management. The lawsuit alleges the company used artificial intelligence tools to reject prospective renters who use housing choice vouchers. The lawsuit, filed Monday, is the result of a more than six-month investigation conducted by Open Communities. 

The investigation began when plaintiff Elizabeth Richardson contacted Open Communities, alleging that Harbor Group Management had discriminated against her by rejecting her application to rent at Northgate Crossing Apartments in northwest Chicago suburb Wheeling. 

Richardson, who is Black, uses the Housing Choice Voucher program, a federal program that issues vouchers to income-qualified Americans to cover part of their housing costs. Recipients can use the vouchers to find housing anywhere they choose — the program is not limited to designated affordable housing units. According to a Wednesday press release from Open Communities, 78% of Housing Choice Voucher recipients in Illinois are Black.

The investigation found that Harbor Group’s use of AI tools at its apartment complexes across the country consistently led to discriminatory outcomes.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants “intentionally employed PERQ Artificial Intelligence automated systems to communicate a blanket ‘no Housing Choice Voucher/No Section 8 Policy’ policy to reject Internet rental applications from individuals including Richardson, who receive housing assistance payments.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and seeks “damages and injunctive relief” against the defendants.

Though the defendants’ practices did not explicitly target Black applicants, Open Communities argued in the Wednesday release that the case constitutes racial discrimination, given the majority of housing choice voucher recipients are Black. 

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “The Fair Housing Act bars more than intentionally discriminatory conduct — it also bars policies that have an unjustified discriminatory effect based on race, national origin, disability, or other protected class.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lilylcarey

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