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Katko introduces bill in response to Oswego landlord's sexual harassment case

Rep. John Katko

Central New York Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) is introducing legislation aimed at combating sexual harassment in public housing, an effort that was inspired in part by a lawsuit that was filed against an Oswego landlord.

Last year, Doug Waterbury, owner of the Sterling Renaissance Festival and about 50 rental properties, reached an $850,000 settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department and women represented by CNY Fair Housing, resolving the civil lawsuits they brought against him. He was accused of demanding or pressuring female tenants to engage in sexual favors in exchange for housing or discounted rent and retaliating against those who refused in numerous situations stretching back to the 1990s.

CNY Fair Housing Executive Director Sally Santangelo recently testified about the case before Congress.

"They seemed interested to hear about the case - this is a really egregious case," Santangelo said. "The main focus of my comments was that I think this is something that we really don’t know enough about, I think we don’t have a good sense of how much this is happening, I think women are still discouraged from coming forward with these cases."

Santangelo supports Katko's bill that would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to make a separate report of the sexual harassment complaints it receives which are currently lumped in with other discrimination complaints in the department's annual report. The idea is to get a better understanding of the scope of the problem. She said it's a good first step but more needs to be done.

"Studies have shown that women who have vouchers, for example, and therefore have more housing options are more likely to be able to resist advances from their housing provider,” She said. “So, we really talked about the need to increase funding for affordable housing so that women have options in terms of choices of where they live."

Katko's legislation would also codify into law the Justice Department's initiative to increase awareness about tenant's rights and to prosecute cases of sexual harassment in housing.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.