By Laurel J. Sweet
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown will file a bill on Capitol Hill today to make it a federal crime to discriminate against veterans in housing -- a "no-brainer" after he read about the dispute between an Iraq veteran and a peace-activist landlady in the Herald, then learned that Massachusetts is one of only two states that offers vets that protection.
"There is no federal protection for veterans. I don't think that's appropriate. It should be a no-brainer," said Brown, a serving Army National Guard officer.
Brown told the Herald last night he was "angry" after reading about Sgt. Joel Morgan's discrimination lawsuit against Boston property owner Janice Roberts. Morgan, 29, a Milton native who served two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, claims in the civil action that landlady Roberts, 63, suggested he look elsewhere after she showed him a two-bedroom flat in Savin Hill.
"It probably would be better for you to look for a place that is a little bit less politically active and controversial," Roberts, who doesn't live at the triple-decker, told the divorced first-time father in an April 9 voicemail.
Roberts has declined to comment. But in a 16-page response to Morgan's allegations, Roberts cited questions about his ability to pay and other issues, adding, "It was never mentioned or even inferred that he wasn't qualified (to rent) because he was an Iraq war veteran. ... However, it did seem that discussing our "outreach' program and its anti-Iraq war effort would be a discouragement to anyone who felt strongly about the war effort."
Massachusetts law bars landlords from denying veterans housing based on their military service, Brown said.
Only one other state, Washington, affords veterans the same protection -- and only if they've been honorably discharged.
As it now stands, the federal Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination based on race, gender, religion, national origin and familial status.
Brown said if his proposed "Ending Housing Discrimination Against Service members and Veterans Act of 2012" passes in Congress, he wants Morgan at his side when the president signs it. Morgan could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"To think in this day and age we have our heroes who are fighting overseas, they're fighting to get jobs, now they have to fight to get housing? Really?" Brown said. "You can disagree with the war, but I think you have to say the warriors deserve our utmost respect and support."