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Letters to the Editor

May 14, 2008


Published May 14, 2008 at 6:57 p.m.


Local governmental Fair Housing Act absurdities: Landlords can't discriminate based on marital status, but they also can't rent to more than four unrelated adults ["Between the Lines," April 30].

Asking "Are any of you married?" violates the FHA. Landlords who, with good intentions (but unwisely), enrolled their properties in the lead abatement program now need to rent to families with children under six years of age.

Asking "Do you have children under the age of six?" violates the FHA. Ads with "No large dogs" now violates the FHA? If so, I have no doubt that Jamie Williamson will "find" thousands of other violations in Vermont; she'd be out of a job if she didn't.

Pike Porter


Porter is a real estate agent 
in Burlington.


"Between the Lines" [April 30] provided strikingly imbalanced "coverage" of the issue of fair housing. To claim victim status for newspaper publishers and landlords, and dismiss the very real issue of housing discrimination, appears to be a partisan approach to this subject.

Discrimination is as alive and well in Vermont as elsewhere. Most housing discrimination takes subtle, nuanced forms that are hard to prove. Organizations seeking to insure fair housing focus on newspapers because only there does the potential for discrimination appear in black and white. Few landlords would be foolish enough to state a refusal to rent to a particular applicant based on race, gender, etc. However, apartments frequently and mysteriously do become "already rented" in the short period between the initial phone call and the arrival of the applicant at the front door. Landlords have the upper hand in the landlord/tenant relationship and few situations are so egregious that tenants can prove discrimination. They just keep searching.

As the housing market gets tighter and the state's population becomes more diverse, obtaining affordable housing becomes increasingly difficult for distinct groups of people. When can we expect a follow-up article presenting their story to complete your coverage of the fair housing issue?

Meribeth Seaman


Seaman works with Chittenden Community Action.

Editor's Note: Seven Days has written extensively about all kinds of discrimination in Vermont. Here's 
a sampling: * "Housing Discrimination 'Flourishing' in Vermont, Cases Suggest" * "A House Divided: A homeless man crusades against condo conversion in Burlington" * "Vermont Tenants, Inc., on a Short-Term Lease" * "Unwelcome Mat: Immigrant 'testers' discover discrimination in Burlington" * "Bullied in Brandon: Homophobia, harassment and hate crimes - where were the police?"


Housing discrimination exists in Vermont, and the Fair Housing Act's protections, including the prohibition on discriminatory advertising, are an essential part of the campaign to end discrimination here.

The enforcement of the Fair Housing Act's prohibition on discriminatory advertising prevents landlords, real estate agents or others from co-opting prospective buyers' or tenants' rights to determine where they live by steering them away from particular properties or neighborhoods.

Discriminatory advertise-ments play a powerful role in legitimizing and perpetuating discrimination by creating a climate in which discrimination becomes an acceptable and everyday part of life. Publishing discriminatory advertisements gives discrimination the imprimatur of legitimacy and erodes the protections offered by other areas of fair housing law.

Like illegal segregation, discriminatory advertising causes emotional and psychological damage. Searching the classifieds for an apartment, only to find that you are not welcome in many of the units based on your membership in a particular group, takes an emotional and psychological toll. If we allow discriminatory advertisements, we send a clear message to our neighbors and friends who are members of protected groups - you are not welcome here.

By offering a distorted picture of the Fair Housing Act, Seven Days ["Between the Lines," April 30] forgets that housing discrimination is a human and civil rights issue. In the process, the story attempts to de-legitimize the harm that it causes to our friends and neighbors here in Vermont.

Bekah Mandell


Mandell is the director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity's Fair Housing Project.


"Between the Lines" [April 30] mistakenly reported that Seven Days was "fined $45,000 including $30,000 in free advertising" for publishing discriminatory housing ads. There was no fine imposed. Under Vermont law, only a judge has the power to impose a civil penalty after finding a violation of discrimination law.

In fact, the resolution of the complaint filed by the Housing Discrimination Project against Seven Days was achieved through mediation services provided by the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

The story stated, "On its second offense, Seven Days opted for a mediated settlement rather than risk a long and potentially expensive court fight." However, "the paper's publishers were shocked by the harshness of the penalty." This is surprising given that Seven Days was represented by counsel in mediation. The very nature of mediation is that the parties to the dispute come together with the assistance of a neutral third party and agree to resolve the dispute. As in most cases pending investigation, the Commission did not participate in this mediation.

Fair housing law prohibits the publication of advertisements stating a preference or limitation against members of classes protected by law, including families with minor children. Ads should describe the property and not those who might choose to live there. The law makes both the party placing the ad and the publisher of the ad liable. Given that this was a second offense for Seven Days, it appears that the publishers voluntarily made a business decision to resolve the complaint on the terms described above.

Robert Appel


Appel is executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

Editor's Note: Penalty, fine, "donation" - whatever you want to call it, Seven Days had to pay it, or go to court.


"Officials Weigh the Pros and Cons of Trucking" [Local Matters, April 30] by Jon Margolis does little more than to slam the trucking industry.

Margolis makes zero mention of any "pros" that might be associated with the trucking industry. His article is essentially an editorial, published by Seven Days to look like a standard news article.

Notice the lead paragraph in the article: "Behold the truck. As if you have a choice. Behind an 18-wheeler struggling uphill on a country two-lane, or, in front of one barreling down the Interstate, you will behold it, like it or not." This lead paragraph smacks of slander and bigotry against the trucking industry.

Margolis, the reporter, states that Capt. William Elovirta of VTrans "acknowledged that the state's weigh stations aren't catching most of the [overweight] violators."

However, Margolis never even asks Mr. Elovirta about the huge majority of trucks that are on the road carrying legal weight. The huge majority of shippers know about the backlash that would occur if they were intentionally overloading trucks.

It is difficult to judge the point of Margolis' editorializing in his article. Is it simply that truck trailers have gotten longer over the years? Yes, trailers have gotten longer, just as SUVs have grown in size, just as hamburgers have grown in size and become "super-sized," etc. Everything has grown, not just trucks.

Mr. Margolis ought to reflect and realize that the printing ink in the newspaper, the paper for the newspaper and the computer that he wrote his story on arrived by truck. Furthermore, the trucker that delivered all this most likely had an excellent driving record and carried the goods on a truck with legal weight.

Daniel G. Cohen


Cohen is a semi-retired commercially licensed tractor-trailer driver.


Avram Pratt is correct in stating that methane can be recovered from landfills to produce energy [Letters, April 30]. Methane in landfills is created by organic materials such as wood, paper, cardboard and food scraps. These materials are not waste. Instead of being lost forever in a landfill, incinerator, or gasification plant, where their only value is energy production, these materials should be recovered and treated as valuable resources and used for crop nutrients or recycled.

Some of these organic materials can still be used to create methane for energy production more efficiently than from a landfill. Landfill methane recovery systems are on average about 75 percent efficient; a significant amount of methane is still released into the atmosphere. A more efficient way to utilize methane generated by these materials is to put them through an anaerobic digester, which captures 100 percent of the methane and doesn't reduce the nutrient value of the materials in the process. You get energy production and increased soil fertility, utilizing these resources to the highest extent.

If everyone followed Avram's lead and composted or recycled everything else, there would be very little methane being created by landfills. Rather than look forward to new ways of producing energy from waste, why not take the leap and suspend the assumption that waste is inevitable. If manufacturers eliminated waste from their production processes and packaging, and consumers considered the amount of waste resulting from their purchasing decisions, it is possible to transform our wasteful society into a wasteless one.

Dennis Sauer


Sauer is program development director for Zero Waste, Inc.


Frankly, this Al Jazeera should have never aired over Burlington Telecom. The hate mongering that they cultivate in the name of news and journalism against Western society and the nation of Israel does not merit any consideration from a publicly owned broadcast company, unless you are providing it as a service to our national security organizations.

It was an extremely poor decision on the part of Burlington Telecom to begin with. Throw out the rubbish, and next time think it through a little further; the average citizen has no interest in what Al Jazeera has to say.

Ken Boyd