ANDERSON — A federal class-action lawsuit claims residents at a government-subsidized apartment complex suffered sexual harrassment, racial discrimination and health problems related to conditions management failed to address.
For more than a year, requests for apartment repairs by residents at Westvale Manor went unanswered, according to the suit filed Monday by the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana against the Anderson Housing Authority.
Westvale Manor, a 45-apartment housing complex near West 22nd Street and Raible Avenue on the city's west side, is home to more black residents than any other federal housing complex in the city, the lawsuit states.
The suit names two current tenants who are both black and have physical disabilities as the plaintiffs along with the Fair Housing Center, based in Indianapolis. The Fair Housing Center is a private not-for-profit that seeks to ensure equal housing opportunities.
Amy Nelson, executive director of The Fair Housing Center, said Monday that an investigation into the conditions at the Westvale Manor had been ongong for more than a year.
The complaint alleges the housing authority violated the federal Fair Housing Act by:
• Maintaining multifamily dwellings differently, based upon race, than other complexes.
• Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations to residents with disabilities.
• Maintenance men using their positions to sexually harass female residents.
"The tenants have been sexually harassed and discriminated against based on race," Nelson said. "We want people to see that the tenants have been dealing with this for several years. ... We're hopeful for a quick resolution."
Emma Jo Ann Mahern and Christopher Clark, attorneys for the Fair Housing Center and for the lawsuit's two named plaintiffs, Tonya Brown and Wanda Sykes, declined to comment on the case, directing all questions to Nelson.
Charles Weatherly Jr., executive director of AHA, said Monday he had not been contacted about the complaints.
"It's funny they would notify the newpaper and not notify us," he said. "We heard they were solificting tenants. Some tenants feel they had been harassed."
"There has been no maintenance problems," he said of conditions at Westvale Manor. "There is a funding problem because HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) has cut our funding."
Weatherly said there are problems with sewage pipes and mold in some of the housing units.
"People make complaints because they want to move into larger housing," he said, adding that the Housing Authority works hard to maintain the housing units.
Highest black ratio
The Anderson Housing Authority, founded in 1975, obtains federal funds to provide housing for low-income residents. The local authority is overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rent rates for eligible residents are typically limited to no more than 30 percent of a family's adjusted income.
In practical terms, the AHA is conisdered the landlord of Westvale. The local authority operates both single-family and multifamily dwellings. Multifamily complexes are at Lynwood Village and Westvale Manor.
Westvale Manor consists of 45 units in eight buildings. Of Westvale's head-of-household tenants, 30 are black, 14 are white and one is mixed race, according to the lawsuit.
The Indiana fair housing organization's complaint alleges that the city's Housing Authority discriminated because Lynwood Village, located in a mostly white neighborhood and having a majority of units filled by white residents, is "decent, safe and sanitary."
But the Housing Authority treats the mostly-black Westvale differently and "fails to maintain Westvale in a safe and sanitary condition," the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleges: "AHA so consistently and deliberately disregards complaints by Westvale's black residents that most long-term tenants long ago gave up asking AHA for help. Complaints are ignored, or worse, they result in retaliation."
Among the common complaints, according to the lawsuit:
Leaks: one resident sleeps in her living room because of a leak in her bedroom; three more report leaks in bathrooms; and another said her ceiling collapsed after being soaked with water from a leak.
Mold: Nine tenants reported visible mold. One resident tested mold in her unit and shared the results — a "dangerous" rating — with Weatherly, who was the head of maintenance for AHA before becoming director of the Housing Authority. He did nothing to address the mold problem, the lawsuit alleges.
Shower curtains for doors: Several residents said that when their closet doors broke, the AHA replaced them with shower curtains.
Pests: Six tenants reported roaches, termites or bed bugs.
Tenant Wanda Sykes has fallen on stairs and claims she is under emotional distress.
Resident Tonya Brown has a doctor's statement that the mold environment at Westvale is detrimental to her health. She has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and uses an inhaler to breathe. Brown has requested that the Housing Authority allow her to move from Westvale, according to the lawsuit.
Repairs either don't occur or are slow in arriving, according to the lawsuit. And some responses include alleged sexual harassment by maintenance men.
One woman, identified as Jane Doe, said she was sexually harassed by two maintenance workers. One of the workers told her she would have her carpets cleaned faster if she performed a sexual act. Another maintenance man allegedly touched her breasts on more than one occasion when she walked past him in a stairway.
Another resident said she asked Weatherly about the possibility of moving to a larger apartment. The woman said he "suggestively" told her she could move in with him.
Weatherly said he never said that to anyone. "That would be a lie," he said.
Another woman sought a restraining order against a Housing Authority maintenance worker, but the man continued to work at Westvale, the suit alleges.
AHA is represented by attorney Bill McCarty, who could not be reached for comment. Weatherly said McCarty lives in Bloomington but attends all the Housing Authority board meetings.
The Fair Housing Center notified AHA of its investigation by letter in July 2015. Some residents have since reported that repairs are being made for the first time in decades. But some residents also said that AHA employees have been asking which residents have cooperated in the investigation.
Besides seeking a ruling that the Housing Authority maintain "habitable conditions" at Westvale, the lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages for some residents.
Follow Senior Reporter Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide and contact him at 640-4863. Contact Managing Editor - News Scott Miley at 648-4230.