Response to Alleged Discrimination/VASH Program
The Washington State Attorney General’s (AG’s) office issued a press release recently and media followed-up, that several named residential property owners/management firms settled out of court on a charge of illegally discriminating against veterans. Rowley Properties was named in this release and in light of the circumstances, we felt an obligation to share with our community that things are not always what they may seem, especially in today’s world of social media and rise of false news. We do not discriminate, and we did not discriminate.
As a locally-owned business established in 1954, Rowley Properties has prided itself in being a good corporate citizen and have always worked diligently to serve our community, including supporting many non-profits who provide vital services such as Hopelink and Eastside Baby Corner, volunteering, and/or serving on boards of organizations aimed at helping vulnerable populations.
We work very hard to ensure we are following the law and being ethical in our business. So, you might imagine that when we received notice we had allegedly discriminated against veterans, the news came as a complete surprise. Rowley Properties supports local veteran’s organizations and has for decades. We are committed to hiring the best people, including veterans. In fact, we have several former military who are employees of the company. Veterans have lived and continue to live in our apartments. We followed all the rental practices recommended in Fair Housing/Landlord Tenant Law and the express recommendations of the appropriate State agencies administering housing programs.
When we were first made aware of VASH vouchers, we inquired of the State’s own responsible Agency whether the vouchers were mandatory or not and were told expressly that they were not; they were purely optional -- a landlord may accept or not accept. And because these vouchers come with a lot of 'red tape' and restrictions for property owners which are not in the interests of the residents, we opted not to participate given we only manage 85 apartment units. Our intention was never to discriminate. When we were told by the AG that our declination of a VASH voucher allegedly violated the law, we made the State aware that we had consulted with their own housing agency and been told the vouchers were optional. The AG did not seem to care. Even while the matter was pending, we again contacted the appropriate State agency and were again advised that the vouchers were optional and the property owner could choose to accept or not accept. This still did not make a difference to the AG’s office. As the matter proceeded, we shared with the AG’s office there was a lot of genuine confusion among property owners in our State, like us, who wanted to do the right thing but were unsure what that was because the rules, especially as to the voucher, were definitely unclear. Their own agencies were giving contrary information saying the vouchers were optional. We expressed to the State that it made more sense to add clarity to rectify the situation rather than to fine people. They did not seem to care. When we offered, in writing, to take positive steps to help educate the industry on a wide scale, through publications and meetings (which we would perform freely for the State), they showed zero interest in this offer. They only were interested in penalizing, fining, and now we see, issuing a wide-reaching press release. The reason we entered into the agreement was to avoid time-consuming costly litigation. As stated in the agreement with the State: “Nothing in this Assurance of Discontinuance constitutes or may be construed as an admission of liability by Rowley Properties as to the assertions of the State of Washington. Rowley Properties denies having knowingly or intentionally engaged in the practices alleged and asserts that its actions were consistent with its understanding of federal policy and information from the Public Housing Authority”. (para. 2.3 of signed agreement)
As good corporate citizens, we chose to resolve the matter rather than engage in years of arduous litigation as we have customers and tenants who come first, we have a business to run and employees to whom we are responsible.
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