ANN ARBOR – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan (FHC-SE) and the Clinical Law Program of the University of Michigan Law School have come to the aid of a terminally ill Ann Arbor woman who is being forced to move from her apartment after the complex rejected her only means of paying the rent – public assistance.
“This is tantamount to an eviction notice for a terminal breast cancer patient and her family,” said Pam Kisch, FHC-SE Executive Director. “We would like to believe that the decision was not motivated by cruelty but rather a misperception of the law.”
Laura Barhyte, a 48-year-old mother of two boys, has been a model tenant at University Townhouses Cooperative since 1999. Ms. Barhyte qualified for a government housing voucher after she had to resign from her job with an Ann Arbor school due to her breast cancer and subsequently depleted her savings.
“This shouldn’t be a shameful thing,” said Barhyte. “These government programs were put in place to help people like me who are struggling. I have stage four cancer and I need help now, there is no stage five.”
In spite of the legal obligations to accept the voucher as an accommodation of Ms. Barhyte’s disability, the Cooperative Board of Directors voted to reject her section 8 voucher in December, 2004. The Ann Arbor Human Rights ordinance also prohibits the Cooperative from discriminating against Ms. Barhyte based on her source of income. In previous verbal and written correspondence, the groups have requested that Ms. Barhyte be accommodated, but have had no cooperation thus far.
According to the Fair Housing Center, there are no costs associated with accepting Ms. Barhyte’s section 8 voucher and would take minimal effort and staff time. The Cooperative would continue to receive the same amount of rent for the apartment.
“We hope that the Cooperative will be compassionate and quickly decide to allow Ms. Barhyte and her family to remain in her apartment,” said Michael Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “However, we’re prepared to file a federal lawsuit, if necessary.”