OKLAHOMA CITY – The Lone Wolf Housing Authority, its former executive director and its former program assistant have been named in a discrimination lawsuit filed in the Western District federal court here after more than four years of futile negotiations.
The complaint alleges that in March 2015 a Black woman, Alexandra Zackery, and her daughter, then 5 years old, were homeless and staying at a shelter “while they searched for stable and affordable housing.”
A representative of Legal Aid contacted the Lone Wolf Housing Authority on behalf of Ms. Zackery to inquire about the availability of housing. The Legal Aid representative spoke on the telephone with David M. Haynes, who was then employed as executive director of the LWHA, and provided information about the woman and her child and their circumstances but did not discuss their race.
During that conversation, Haynes “stated ... that housing unit(s) were available ... and could be occupied within a week,” the lawsuit petition relates.
Legal Aid faxed Ms. Zackery’s completed application to the Housing Authority. On the first page of the application, where the form asked the applicant to indicate the number of prospective household members of each “ethnic group,” Ms. Zackery wrote the number “2” next to the category “Black, not of Hispanic origin.”
Twelve days later Haynes signed and approved a form denial letter in response to Ms. Zackery’s application. “Under the ‘Eligible’ header on the ... letter, Mr. Haynes checked the box stating that no units were available,” the federal government alleges.
Myrna Hess, who was then the LWHA program assistant, faxed to Legal Aid the form denial letter signed by Haynes. In addition, Ms. Hess “contacted Legal Aid’s representative by telephone to inform her that no units were available” for Ms. Zackery and her daughter.
2 WOMEN PERFORM RACIAL ‘TESTING’
Because of Ms. Zackery’s “experience,” Legal Aid “conducted testing” to determine whether the LWHA discriminated against potential residents “on the basis of race.”
In November 2015 a white female “tester” visited the LWHA “to seek housing” for herself and her 4-year-old daughter. Haynes “escorted the white tester to view three vacant units” at the housing authority. Afterward, Hess “described the application process” to the white woman, “made no mention that the Housing Authority maintained a zero-tolerance drug policy and never mentioned a waiting list for tenancy.”
The very next day a Black female tester visited the LWHA to seek housing. “Ms. Hess stated that the Housing Authority did not have any units available at that time” and allegedly told the African-American tester “that the Housing Authority was ‘a zero drug tolerance facility’.” Further, neither Hess nor Haynes showed the Black tester any housing units.
• Lone Wolf is a Kiowa County town that had a population of approximately 400 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
• The LWHA operates 25 units: 10 one-bedroom apartments, 10 two-bedroom apartments, and 5 three-bedroom apartments, court records show.
• Between 2015 and 2019 the LWHA had “zero African-American heads of household leasing any of their housing units,” the government reported.
• The Housing Authority was and still is a recipient of financial assistance from the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Public and Indian Housing.
• As a condition of receiving federal aid, the LWHA “certified that it agreed to comply with all requirements imposed by” the federal Civil Rights Act.
• The Civil Rights Act and HUD’s implementing regulation “provide that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race ... be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
A woman who answered the telephone Monday at the Lone Wolf Housing Authority identified herself as the new executive director but declined to answer any questions about the lawsuit.
Haynes and Hess both still live in Lone Wolf, court records reflect.
COMPLAINT FILED WITH HUD
On March 1, 2016, Ms. Zackery and Legal Aid filed a joint complaint with HUD about the alleged actions of Haynes and Hess. HUD “conducted and completed an investigation of the complaints, attempted conciliation without success,” and determined that “reasonable cause existed to believe” that Hess and Haynes “engaged in illegal discriminatory housing practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
HUD notified the LWHA on September 10, 2019, that it had failed to comply with federal law. On September 28, 2020, HUD concluded “that it was unable to voluntarily resolve” the allegations and would refer the matter to the Justice Department for enforcement, which HUD did on October 30. “The U.S. has determined that all administrative requirements have been exhausted and that securing compliance cannot be achieved by voluntary means.”
“Denying people housing opportunities because of their race or color is an egregious violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Discrimination by those who receive federal taxpayer dollars to provide housing to lower-income applicants is particularly odious.”