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Sting at Detroit Apartment Complex Yields Record Bias Settlement

September 24, 1996

DETROIT (AP) _ When Michael Metras went to the Park Woods Apartments in 1994, he was told there were several apartments available. When his wife went back with their young son days later, she was turned away.

Months later, the white couple from Dearborn received a phone call from a government lawyer who said the complex was discriminating against whites with children and blacks. The Metrases and six other families sued.

On Monday, the owner agreed to pay $475,000 to settle the lawsuit _ the biggest settlement so far in a federal probe of housing discrimination nationwide.

``I was pretty angry about that because at the time, I really needed a place to live,″ Kimberly Metras said Monday. ``They discriminated against me because I have children, not because I wasn’t gainfully employed _ which I am. To me, that’s wrong.″

The Metrases had been tracked by the Justice Department, which went through housing records to find cases where the owner and managers of the complex lied to whites with children and blacks about the availability of apartments, in violation of the 1989 federal Fair Housing Act.

``The discrimination is quite subtle,″ said Victoria A. Roberts, a lawyer for the seven families who sued. ``It happens with a handshake and a smile. Most people just walk away.″

Working with the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, the Justice Department sent black and white test applicants with similar credentials to the complex, in suburban Allen Park. Blacks were told no apartments were available, while white testers were told apartments were available, the lawsuit said.

``The sign may say welcome, but the door is actually closed to the racial minority,″ said Paul F. Hancock, chief of the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

The Metrases, who have two children, dealt with John Kastl, a retired Detroit police officer who managed Park Woods until September 1995, when his daughter took over. Lisa Kastl, who was named as a defendant, said Monday that she and the owner of the complex, Solomon Sylvan, had no comment.

Under the settlement, which still must be approved by a federal judge, the seven plaintiffs will share $362,500, with each getting about $34,700 after lawyer fees. Another $100,000 will go to additional victims who respond to advertisements placed by Sylvan as part of the settlement. Sylvan also agreed to pay $12,500 to the government.

Hancock said similar testing programs are operating in a dozen other U.S. cities to identify ``subtle discrimination.″

The suit was the seventh such action by the Justice Department in the Detroit area and the 27th in the country. The others in and around Detroit have been settled since 1993 for a total $1.7 million in penalties and damages.

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