A Champion for Housing Equality in Cincinnati
Second year student Tim Lynch's summer experience involved fighting against unfair housing practices in Cincinnati.
“[The work] is interesting and sometimes it’s really sad. If we solve one issue, another one comes to light,” Lynch said about his summer externship with Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).
While he initially thought not a lot would be going on at a small nonprofit, Lynch has been proved wrong.
He was hard at work promoting HOME’s mission, which is to “eliminate unlawful discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender/sex, family status, physical disability, and/or mental disability.”
The mission is wide-reaching, and can sound nearly impossible, but Lynch worked with the rest of the HOME staff to realize it, one person at a time.
With a wide assortment of day-to-day duties, Lynch oftentimes saw himself pulled into various projects at the office. He worked at HOME’s call-line, which tenants use to ask questions about their rights as well as what their landlords can do. HOME also gives presentations - including an upcoming continuing legal education course - to landlords and real-estate companies, explaining owners’ and tenants’ rights, and new laws that may affect business.
“It was great for me because I could get up and speak publicly to people who actually care about the subject,” he said about presentations, one of his favorite parts of the job.
While he has loved his time at HOME, fair housing is not a path he first imagined himself going down.
Attending the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Lynch studied criminology, intending to pursue law enforcement after graduation. His mindset gradually changed over those four years due to a combination of world events and the influence of his uncle, who works as a detective. Lynch often turned to his uncle for advice about law enforcement careers, and eventually was advised that becoming involved with the legal system could be a good move; it would allow interaction with the criminal justice system while still opening more doors.
Ultimately, Lynch saw himself in law school. During his first year, he was surprised to find that he enjoyed his contracts and property law classes even more than his criminal law course. He became involved with the Tenant Information Project (TIP) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), which provide legal information to callers concerning landlord/tenant laws and assist low- and middle-income and elderly persons prepare tax returns. These organizations allowed Lynch to be hands-on for the first time, something he relished.
His time spent at TIP, and a negative experience with a landlord while in undergrad, pushed him towards working at HOME. Since he began his work there, he has learned a lot.
Since its inception in 1959, HOME has been fighting against racial discrimination in housing. While that hasn’t gone away, Lynch said, it’s not the most prevalent issue in Cincinnati housing anymore. Now, the organization has turned its focus to discrimination against families, those with disabilities, and sexual orientation.
Initially, Lynch believed the majority of disability discrimination would stem from landlords not wanting to knock down the old, narrow buildings that are so prevalent in Cincinnati. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
One of HOME’s main priorities is working toward reasonable accommodation and reasonable modification requests, which involve a change of policy in order to help the tenant. For example, if a tenant has PTSD and wants to get a therapy dog for emotional support, but the landlord has a no-pets policy, the tenant has the right to file a request.
HOME is engaged in such a battle right now with a family in Blue Ash.
The Anderson family obtained a miniature horse to help their sixteen-year-old daughter move more easily. She is nonverbal and cannot easily move, along with several other disabilities, and requires someone to be with her 24/7. This miniature horse was providing a small bit of independence for her.
The City of Blue Ash, however, views the horse as livestock, and requires the family to pay a livestock fee, something HOME has filed a reasonable accommodation request against. The legal battle has spanned three years now; while HOME lost at the district court level, they were able to get a date for their appeal to be heard. Unfortunately, that’s not until early 2017.
“Her mother just broke down at one point, saying, ‘I’m just so sick of going through all these legal battles. I don’t understand why the city can’t just let us have this miniature horse,’” remembered Lynch. “They’re just such a great family, and it’s a shame because you wanted to give them the world and help them out. All they want is for this legal battle to be over.”
While working at HOME has opened Lynch’s eyes to sometimes difficult perspectives and situations, he plans to continue this work in his future career. Whether he continues work with fair housing authorities from an office or pro-bono, he is looking forward to committing himself to the mission of fair housing.
Author: Michelle Flanagan, ‘18, Communication Intern