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MCHR explains Housing Discrimination
>>SUSAN: Hi, I'm Amy Susan, Director of Communications for the Missouri Department of Labor. On this week's edition of Labor Talk, a podcast where experts discuss workplace issues that affect your life. I'm joined here with Alisa Warren, Executive Director of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. Welcome to the show, Alisa.
>>ALISA WARREN: Thank you.
>>SUSAN: We're here to discuss the importance of fair housing and first, can you just tell us what the Missouri Commission on Human Rights does?
>>WARREN: Sure, we are an independent agency. Which is housed in the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. And, we are represented by eleven volunteering commissioners from each congressional district in the state of Missouri. And it's our charge to enforce the Missouri Human Rights Act. So, if you feel that you've been discriminated against in housing, in employment, or public accommodations, you can come to our agency and file a complaint. If you feel that it's based on your protected class, such as your race, your color, your religion, national origin, your ancestry, sex, disability, or familial status, you can file a claim with our agency. We are a neutral fact finder, so, we're not going to take sides, we're going to listen to both sides and determine whether or not it seems more apparent than not that discrimination took place. We do that free of charge, so individuals do not have to have an attorney, unless they want to.
>>SUSAN: Tell us about the outreach in education component of MCHR's mission. What does that entail?
>>WARREN: We are excited about the education and outreach component. The Missouri Commission on Human Rights training institute does a lot for the citizens of Missouri in terms of educating people, business and industry, or different organizations, for issues like diversity, sexual harassment, investigating sexual harassment, or investigating discrimination claims. We also do training on discriminatory, predatory lending which is a newer area, of an interest. We provide traning for schools, free of charge, where we will come to schools and talk to young people about knowing their rights or often times just starting their new jobs, in the summer or after school. And don't really understand what sexual harassment is, and what-understanding diversity. So, it's a really good way to get the message out to young workers. And then also, one of our newest activities is the Missouri Show Me Fair Housing Awareness Project, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was awarded to only twenty-four agencies in the country. And we're focusing on the Missouri bootheel, in providing information and education on discriminatory, predatory lending in that part of our state.
>>SUSAN: Why does the Show Me Fair Housing Awareness Project focus on the South-eastern part of Missouri, rather than the whole entire state?
>>WARREN: That's a great question. In the bootheel, particularly in Sikeston, there was a case where two men were indicted for fifty-nine counts of fraud in lending. They were found doing such things as inflating home costs as high as nine times higher than the value of that home. What that did was create a domino effect of individuals in that part of our state, where people actually lost their homes; their homes were foreclosed on. And some people were even rendered homeless. And so we really wanted to reach out to that part of the state because of that situation. The FBI found Missouri one of the top ten states in the country for morgage fraud. So, we don't want to be known for that in Missouri, so we really want to educate our citizens about how not to fall into that cycle.
>>SUSAN: Tell us about some of the success stories. I mean obviously, you've met a lot of people down there. Tell us about, just overall what you've heard. And then if you have any specific cases to share.
>>WARREN: Sure I'd be glad to. A lady who was a single mother and a veteran attended our Lunch and Learn program and received a scholarship to attend the day-long Housing Counseling session. At that housing counseling session, the U.S. State DA was able to pre-qualify her on-the-spot for a home loan and we were very excited about that.
>>SUSAN: And she probably would not have known about this or been able qualify for a loan if she had not been presented-or participated.
>>WARREN: Right, it was on-the-spot and we were excited about that.
>>SUSAN: That's great. And for people who aren't able to attend one of these programs, can you share with us some tips about what people can do to avoid unfair housing practices?
>>WARREN: Sure, Sure. Um, you've always heard the term "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is"?
>>Warren: Remember that.
>>WARREN: Because often times if it just seems too good to be true, you need to listen to that little voice in your head. If their unfavorable terms or-or it's seems-it seems as though it's going to be more than you can handle, avoid that. Because I think there are people that are unscrupulous out there who would really try to leverage the fact that most people want to be a homeowner, it's the American dream.
>>WARREN: They want to be able to do that and would be willing to do anything to get it, but at the end of the day, you can end up being foreclosed on. So you just dont want to do that...
>>SUSAN: And sabotage your credit.
>>WARREN: Absolutely, you need to make smart choices and that's why being educated is so important. Know what you're signing, read what you're signing, pay attention to what you're signing, and never sign a document that has blanks in it, that are left empty. Because you could be held responsible and liable for what's written in those blanks. So we want to make sure you know what's there and that everything is filled in; and that you're aware and knowledgeable about what you're signing.
>>SUSAN: So if someone finds themself in that situation, where they do feel like they are being discriminated against, especially fair housing, or employment, or public accommodations, for that matter. What should someone do?
>>WARREN: Well they should call the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, we have an 800 number which is 1-877-781-4236 or they can go on our website to learn more about filing a claim with our agency, www.labor.mo.gov/mohumanrights.
>>SUSAN: Okay. And then we can help them out and take them through the process.
>>WARREN: Yes. We have very nice intake officers who will help them through the process, who will help them write a claim, and get through it. It's a scary position to be in, and it's one that we're here to help you get through.
>>SUSAN: In addition, there's a list of homebuyer education classes that will show up after the screen.
>>SUSAN: Thank you for joining us on the show today. And if you have any additional questions, or inquiries that you would like to submit for Alisa to answer, you can submit that question by visiting www.labor.mo.gov, click on News and Notices, and then Labor Talk Podcast.