By Shriya Kali Chittapuram and Jonathan Nunez
WHITE PLAINS, NY– The Ronald McDonald House of the Greater Hudson Valley (RMH) and Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), Inc were sued this week by the Legal Action Center (LAC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), alleging RMH followed a blanket policy known to unfairly impact Black and Latino families.
The claims arose when Juan Mieles, a Latino father, was denied housing for his family after a decade old conviction.
While RMHC is a nonprofit organization that strives to provide housing, its blanket criminal conviction policy ultimately does more harm than good, according to the ACLU statement, which charged RMHC’s policy indiscriminately bans any individual with prior convictions without any consideration of individual circumstances.
As a result, Juan Mieles decided to take legal action to counteract RMH’s prior conviction policy. The legal complaint filed by the plaintiff, Juan Mieles extensively recounts the alleged emotional distress brought upon by the Ronald McDonald House.
The suit stated that, “In January 2022, Mr. Mieles’s 17-year-old son, Anthony, was scheduled to begin intensive inpatient treatment for a serious, aggressive cancer diagnosis. Eager to be with and provide support to their son as much as possible, Mr. Mieles and his partner, Karrimah Aly (“Ms. Aly”), applied for housing with Defendants, non-profit entities that provide families in this exact situation with housing close to the hospitals where their children are receiving care for life-threatening conditions.
“They expected their family would live at RMH for the duration of their son’s treatment and recovery, which was projected to require six to twelve weeks of hospitalization”
Contrary to their mission, the ACLU claims, the RMH denied Mieles and his family the housing they needed because the plaintiff had an assault conviction nearly 10 years prior.
The suit states, “Mr. Mieles has worked hard to put his past behind him over the 12 years since the incident that led to his conviction. During his incarceration, Mr. Mieles took a leadership role in programming that included helping others with parole hearing preparation and assisting with parenting classes, earning him an early release. Since returning home, he has devoted significant time to caring for Anthony, in addition to working on film sets and managing a rental property. Mr. Mieles has never had any issue as a tenant or landlord prior to or following his incarceration.”
According to the ACLU, this is one of the many examples in which Black and Latino families face discrimination based on arrest records, noting, “Black and Latine people in the United States are over-policed, over-charged, over-prosecuted, over-incarcerated, and over-sentenced, leading to their overrepresentation throughout the system.”
In fact, the ACLU further argues that, “Under the Fair Housing Act and the New York State Human Rights Law, policies that have an unjustified and unnecessary discriminatory effect on the basis of race, color, or national origin are unlawful.”
However, policies like the one listed in RMH, states the ACLU, still exist to this day; from indiscriminately rejecting housing to rehabilitated individuals to denying fathers like Juan Mieles the decency to understand their circumstances, the need for change became prominent.
Amanda Meyer, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, said, “Federal and New York State government agencies have long warned housing providers that unjustified and unnecessary blanket bans from housing based on criminal history disproportionately harm Black and Latine people and are unlawful.” In Juan Mieles’ case, Amanda Meyer argues that RMH “has deprived Mr. Mieles and his family of precious time together during one of the worst time periods of their lives—while their son battled cancer.”
Rubin Danberg Biggs, Skadden fellow at the New York Civil Liberties Union added, “Discriminatory housing policies such as Ronald McDonald House’s blanket ban only serve to extend punishment beyond a court sentence. People like Mr. Mieles are our family, friends, and community members, and their past should not determine whether they can live in dignified and affordable housing.”
As detailed in the suit, “These racial and ethnic disparities are particularly severe in the counties closest to RMH. State data show that the conviction rate per 100,000 people was 3.1 times higher for Latine than white people in Westchester County, where RMH is located, 4.4 times higher in Rockland County, 1.9 times higher in Orange County, and 2.5 times higher in Putnam County.”
The suit continued, “Latine applicants for RMH housing are far more likely than white applicants to have a criminal record, including a conviction that triggers automatic rejection under Defendants’ policy and that would otherwise deter would-be applicants to RMH…Defendants’ policy predictably and actually results in the disproportionate denial of housing opportunities to Latine individuals and their families.
“There is no doubt that RMH’s denial of housing to Mr. Mieles’s family during a time of crisis constitutes discriminatory practices and the “acts, policies, and practices have made and continue to make housing unavailable because of race, color, and/or national origin, in violation of N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(5).”