Steubenville appealing fair housing decision

STEUBENVILLE — The city has asked the Ohio Civil Rights Commission to reconsider its decision in a fair housing complaint filed by a mother who was forced to move her family from a home on Belleview Boulevard because it was in a neighborhood conservation district and the landlord neglected to register it as a rental property.

The commission confirmed Thursday the city had submitted a response to the Oct. 24 decision, which found Steubenville’s 25 neighborhood conservation districts have had a “disparate” impact on minorities. In that decision, OCRC said since the ordinance took effect, non-whites had been largely relegated to poorer areas where there are no neighborhood conservation districts, thus having a “disproportionately adverse effect based on the race of its residents.”

The NCD ordinance, adopted in 2014, was meant to “preserve the attractiveness, desirability and character” of residential areas by barring property owners from turning any more single family homes into rental units, and requiring existing rentals to register.

Before being designated a conservation district, at least two-thirds of the property owners had to approve and every property owner in the zone had to receive and initial a fact sheet detailing their rights and responsibilities. Rental properties existing before the NCD was established were grandfathered in, so as long the owners renewed their rental registry they were allowed to remain.

The original fair housing complaint was filed by Crystal Zimmerman, a mother of eight who was evicted because her landlord had not registered the Belleview Boulevard home she was renting. Zimmerman had claimed harm on the grounds of race, religion, disability and family status, but OCRC dismissed all but the race claim and recommended conciliation.

“In the Zimmerman case, conciliation has failed,” Mary Turocy, director of government affairs and communication for OCRC, confirmed in an e-mailed response Thursday. “However, the city has requested reconsideration, which is kind of like our ‘appeal’ process. The (Ohio Civil Rights) commissioners will have an opportunity to hear the city’s argument as to why the case should not proceed to a hearing.”

A second challenge to the city’s NCD ordinance, that one filed by Royal Mayo, is still pending, she added. Because it has not been resolved, Turocy said she could not “share any details or information about that case.”

“I can say that either party would have the opportunity to request reconsideration following the initial finding of that case,” she noted. “For example, if the commission were to find probable cause in that case as well, the city would have an opportunity to request reconsideration for that case, too.”

Mayo previously said he filed the complaint after being denied the opportunity to rent a friend’s childhood home on Linda Way because it was not a registered rental unit when the neighborhood became an NCD.

City Attorney Costa Mastros could not be reached for comment.


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