City Council To Introduce Legislation To Expand Housing Discrimination Protections

Apr 27, 2020

The City of Pittsburgh will announce new legislation on Tuesday that will expand housing and public accommodation discrimination protections for residents based on citizenship and immigration status, and preferred language.

Councilor Erika Strassburger is introducing the legislation, and she said it has been in the works over the past year. Initially, the legislation was going to be put on hold until after the pandemic, but she said issues of discrimination have become worse.

“Whether they are property owners or people who own restaurants, [some people] are using the pandemic as a reason to discriminate,” Strassburger said. “We actually are seeing an uptick in the number of cases coming to the [Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations] and we know that whatever is coming to the commission is likely unrepresentative of what’s actually happening out there.”

The city currently protects 15 groups from discrimination, based upon protected classes including race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. If a person complains of discrimination to the city's commission, the commision will investigate the complaint. 

Megan Stanley, the executive director of the Commission on Human Relations, said citizenship status does not have clear protection like national origins.

“We have heard of people trying to go into a bar somewhere in the city and someone checking ID has said, 'You have a passport from another country; you’re probably not here legally,’ ” Stanley said. “Or someone hears someone speaking another language and says ‘We don’t want immigrants here,’ or 'We don’t want someone here illegally.’”

Wasi Mohamed, the chair of the commission, said this legislation is important because Asian and Pacific Islanders have seen an increase in verbal and physical attacks, and he worries discrimination could spill over into housing.

“The difficulties that these communities are facing is not just going to be verbal abuse,” he said. “Having more and more protections that protect the different ways that people face discrimination is going to be important.”

Mohamed and Stanley will join Strassburger on a live-streamed press conference tomorrow to announce the legislation.