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Fair Housing month focuses on preventing discrimination

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PORTLAND (WGME) -- April is National Fair Housing Month and this marks 50 years since the Fair Housing Act was passed.

With Portland growing in popularity, finding a place to live can be competitive. Attorneys Patricia Ender and Jill Hunter at Pine Tree Legal Assistance want to make sure everyone has a fair chance to get housing.

"The goal is to eliminate illegal housing discrimination," Ender says.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, color, gender, familial status or disability. The Maine Human Rights Act includes national ancestry, sexual orientation and receipt of public assistance.

"We do still see a lot of housing discrimination," says Ender, "Partly, some people don't understand what their obligations are and others are defiant or determined that this is my property, I can do with it what I wish."

Ender works to educate property owners on their rights and the rights of potential renters and buyers.

"I would like them to know how and where and when they're protected," Ender says.

Attorney Hunter is the fair housing testing coordinator. She uses volunteers to see if they're treated differently based on certain characteristics.

"Are there trends showing up that maybe the families with children or somebody with a disability you know, five times they're being turned away, whereas somebody else who is not disabled or doesn't have children is actually getting an offer," Hunter says.

Hunter also looks at advertisements either targeting certain types of people or turning them away.

"Sometimes there's an advertisement that might say something like 'suitable for professionals' or 'not suitable for families with a lot of children'," says Hunter.

In 2016 the Department of Housing and Urban Development says it received more than 8,000 housing discrimination complaints. Hunter and Ender hope education and prevention efforts will reduce that number in the future.

There are some exemptions to the Fair Housing Act, including an owner-occupied duplex and an owner renting out bedrooms in his or her home. Find out more here.

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