by Dmitry Podobreev, ACLC coordinator
The Alachua County Labor Coalition (ACLC) held a protest on Monday, May 3, in front of the Collier Companies offices to respond to Collier’s illegal discrimination against tenants using Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) and Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV).
Around 30 people came to register their complaints with Collier, which owns over 11,000 housing units across the state of Florida including 21 apartment complexes in Alachua County.
In April, Collier started to refuse to renew leases for tenants who use vouchers at Bivens Cove apartments, including disabled residents, veterans, some who had lived there for over a decade.
These vouchers are supplied by the local Housing Authority and offer consistent and reliable payment to Nathan Collier. The ACLC first learned about this from Sharon Burney, the mother of a disabled resident who was being forced from her home of five years.
Sharon said, “After a year of uncertain times, my daughter went through the hardest medical crisis of her life, fought back twice after being on life support. Management knew that. For this complex to discriminate against disabled people, veterans and the poor is reprehensible especially during a pandemic. As a mother, it is my job to fight as hard for her life as she fought twice to stay alive.”
The ACLC worked with Sharon to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint with the city.
The ACLC also found that the Bivens Cove website said that they would not accept HUD or Section 8 vouchers. Another Collier Companies property, Boardwalk apartments, stated on their website that housing voucher holders are welcome to apply, but the office would not sign any additional documents outside of the lease, which are necessary to make use of the vouchers.
In May 2020, Gainesville passed Ordinance #190814 prohibiting discrimination in housing on the basis of lawful source of income, specifically including any form of housing subsidy or voucher. This ordinance came after years of work by the ACLC and was part of the larger Renters Rights ordinance.
The code also covers discrimination in housing on the basis of other protected classes: gender identity or expression, familial status, veteran or service member status, citizenship status, and being a victim of domestic or dating violence or stalking.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of any of these classes of protection, you can file an EEOC complaint with the city or county.
Collier Co. decided to go out of their way anyway to kick these vulnerable people out on the street regardless of their legal protections.
Immediately, a letter campaign was organized by the ACLC, and because of Sharon’s persistence and with help from ACLC, both Three Rivers Legal Services and Florida Legal Services began working on behalf of residents that contacted them from Bivens Cove.
We outreached to the six veterans who were also told by Bivens Cove that their vouchers were no longer welcome and encouraged them to become part of the class action cease and desist lawsuit being prepared by Florida Legal Services.
Nathan Collier buckled and offered lease renewals for the seven affected residents. However, Collier knew the anti-discrimination in housing ordinance regulations for over a year, and had complained many times about them as an infringement of his right to do business.
The protest went on as planned to send a message to the larger rental barons that they cannot get away with exploitation of people with the least options. We are watching. The protest was also a chance to inform the community of their rights.
Protesters included members of the Dream Defenders, Women’s Liberation, United Faculty of Florida, Gainesville Veterans For Peace, Gainesville Socialist Alternative, and Graduate Assistants United. Gainesville Commissioner Gail Johnson, Kali Blount with the Black Hats Collective and a member of the Gainesville Housing Authority, Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County NAACP, and Paul Ortiz with Veterans For Peace were among the speakers.
And, of course the most impactful speaker was Sharon Burney, who spoke of the unrelenting stress of the situation, and the relief that all seven residents felt to not have to try to find new housing where vouchers are accepted.
The ACLC will continue to demand that Collier Companies be held accountable for their discrimination against the low income and the disabled. We are now demanding that all Collier properties in Alachua County post on their websites and in physical spaces that they happily accept all HUD vouchers from residents. We will advocate that all landlords be required to post a letter detailing all of the housing protections on every unit they lease out.
To find out more about ways to get involved in the Safe and Affordable Housing Committee of the ACLC please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and view photos and coverage of the protest at facebook.com/laborcoalition.