New city legislation expands protections against discrimination in housing
April 28, 2020
During the April 28 Regular Meeting of Pittsburgh City Council, Councilperson Erika Strassburger introduced legislation to add "actual or perceived citizenship status" and "actual or perceived language spoken" as protected classes under Title Six: Conduct in the City Code prohibiting housing and public accommodation discrimination based on these protected classes.
Councilperson Strassburger partnered with Mayor William Peduto, the city's Commission on Human Relations, and non-profits around the city that address the needs of immigrants and refugees to ensure these changes accurately reflected the needs and lived experience of these populations.
"The shelter-at-home orders from the governor during the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the need for a safe and comfortable home for everyone, and have magnified housing and public accommodation inequity issues that existed previously," says Ms. Strassburger. "I believe it is our moral obligation to ensure everyone is treated fairly, regardless of who they are or where they are from. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we are all connected, and it's in our best interest to ensure others can survive and thrive.
"Ensuring that Pittsburgh's immigrant and refugee neighbors have access to safe and healthy housing and are treated with dignity and respect are two important goals outlined in the city's Welcoming Pittsburgh Roadmap. Now more than ever, as we face this global pandemic together, we must protect and defend the rights of our city's newcomers, residents with Limited English Proficiency, and individuals who utilize various means of communication and take a stand against discrimination and hate in all forms," said Mayor Peduto.
"The commission believes that everyone, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, has the right to safe and fair housing and public accommodation options in the City of Pittsburgh," says Megan Stanley, executive director of the City of Pittsburgh's Commission on Human Relations. "Too often we hear of stories where tenants live in fear of retaliation, are made to pay more than their neighbors, and are subjected to illegal harassment. We have seen cases where speaking a different language has disqualified them from entering a restaurant, or showing a foreign passport has led to differential treatment or denial of services. These actions are not just and do not reflect an equitable and welcoming Pittsburgh. Moving to a new country or speaking a different language is hard enough – we want to ensure that all people living in, working in, or visiting our city are treated with the respect and dignity that all humans deserve."
City code already prohibits housing and public accommodation discrimination based on: race, color, religions, ancestry, national origin, place of birth, sex, sexual orientation, familial status, handicap, disability or use of support animals because of the handicap or disability of the user, and actual or perceived status as a victim of domestic violence. Listing and explicitly defining these new protected classes would allow the Commission on Human Relations to more successfully enforce housing and public accommodation discrimination cases brought to them that may not neatly fall under "ancestry, national origin, or place of birth" categories.