Friday, September 29, 2017

Trouble in paradise: DOJ sues Guam government for housing discrimination

Beach scene in Guam

THE U.S. Department of Justice Thursday (Sept. 28) filed a lawsuit alleging that the Government of Guam, as well as the Chamorro Land Trust Commission and its Administrative Director, have violated the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against non-Chamorros.


The case centers on how the territorial government enforces and implements Guam’s Chamorro Land Trust Act. “Chamorro” is a term often used to refer to descendants of the indigenous people of Guam.
    
“The Fair Housing Act prohibits states and territories of the United States from discriminating because of race or national origin in the provision of housing and housing-related benefits and services,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  

“The complaint filed today seeks to ensure that any land program implemented by Guam complies with these principles and does not unlawfully limit the availability of housing opportunities based on a person’s race or national origin.” 


The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. 

Part of the Government of Guam, the Chamorro Land Trust Commission holds and administers approximately 20,000 acres, or 15% of Guam’s total land area. As part of its mission to administer this land, the Commission grants 99-year residential leases for one-acre tracts, at a cost of one dollar per year. Only “native Chamorros,” however, are eligible for these leases. 

Additionally, the Commission makes numerous housing-related benefits available exclusively to Chamorro lease holders, including below-market-rate loans. Among those harmed by this policy are non-Chamorro spouses of Chamorro beneficiaries. 

As alleged in the complaint, for example, one African/American man was evicted from the home he and his wife built on land administered by the trust after his wife, who was Chamorro, passed away. 

Guam’s approximate demographics, based on Census 2010 data, are: Chamorro 37.3% (plus an additional 6.1% who identify as two or more races/ethnic origins including Chamorro); Filipino 26.3%; Native Hawaiian and non-Chamorro Pacific Islander 12.0%; non-Filipino Asian 5.9%; White 7.1%; and Black or African American 1.0%. 

The lawsuit notes that Guam has compared the Chamorro Land Trust to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which created homesteads for eligible native Hawaiians.

However, the Hawaii program was created by an act of Congress, the lawsuit states, to provide benefits to a native community.

“In contrast, the (Chamorro Land Trust Act) was neither enacted by Congress nor implemented pursuant to authority established by Congress,” the government states.

The complaint seeks a court order that would: 

1. Declare that the Chamorro Land Trust Act and its implementing regulations are invalid to the extent that they require or permit any action that would be a discriminatory housing practice under the Fair Housing Act;

2. Prohibit the defendants from discriminating on the basis of race and national origin in providing residential land leases and other real estate-related benefits under the Chamorro Land Trust Act;

3. Award monetary damages for any persons harmed by the defendants’ discriminatory conduct, and 

4. Require the defendants to pay civil penalties. Any individuals who have information relevant to this case are encouraged to contact the Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743, Option 8.