Pitt, FHP to discuss housing discrimination allegation


TPN file photo

A Pitt student filed a housing discrimination complaint against the University in September 2019.

By Jon Moss and Benjamin Nigrosh

After a Pitt student filed a complaint against the University for alleged housing discrimination last September, all parties have agreed to hold a conciliation meeting to discuss the issue at the end of the month.

The Pitt student, whose name was redacted in the complaint, is represented by the Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh, a local nonprofit that focuses on housing discrimination cases in western Pennsylvania, and will meet with University officials and representatives from the building’s owner. Although the student eventually received approval for their disability accommodation, they claimed their request for an emotional support dog for their dorm room was subject to “invasive requirements and obstacles as a deterrent” by the University.

Megan Confer-Hammond, the FHP program director, said FHP is using this opportunity as an attempt to reform University housing accommodation policies.

“We’re looking to do a whole host of things that not only address the singular action that began the case, but that addresses it wholly and systemically and as a community, so that Pitt can be an example,” Confer-Hammond said.

After the federal government accepted the complaint on Dec. 20, 2019, it was then referred to the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, a City agency that investigates claims of discrimination within the City. After PCHR began an investigation into the Pitt student’s claim, the University and the building owner agreed to the February conciliation meeting.

Confer-Hammond said FHP has written a conciliation proposal that will present revisions to the University’s disability accommodation policy.

“What we’re going for is not some massive financial compensation, but for the substantial change to their policies in how students with disabilities can access accommodations in their housing, primarily in the dormitories,” Confer-Hammond said. “As long as you meet the requirements of the Fair Housing Act, you should be able to receive the accommodation without the additional optics that the University student that filed their complaint had to go through.”

If both sides agree to the terms of the conciliation agreement, the PCHR investigation will be terminated. But if a concilliation agreement is not signed, and the PCHR investigation finds the University guilty of disability discrimination, the investigation will advance to federal court.

According to Confer-Hammond, FHP hopes to use the conciliation meeting as an opportunity to collaborate with the University to create substantial programs that will educate students on their protections outlined by the Fair Housing Agreement.

“I am excited at the prospect of being a partner with the University of Pittsburgh on this,” Confer-Hammond said. “In order to ensure that, as a community in Pittsburgh, as a city that has been amongst the most livable cities, that it is livable for all of us.”