But as the U.S. Department of Federal Housing looks to investigate practices in Bay View, association representatives maintain they have not violated the law.
The Bay View Association is a community immediately east of Petoskey where residents can occupy their homes from May to October. As part of the “Christian persuasion" requirement in the association's bylaws, a pastor or church leader needs to attest to people's membership or attendance of a church. While this restriction applies for cottage ownership, the association also provides many programs that are open to the public.
John Meade, enforcement branch chief of the Midwest Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, sent a letter to the Bay View Association and its attorney, Michael Bogren, on May 7.
"This letter is regarding the above complaint alleging that acts of discrimination have been committed in violation of the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (the "Act"). The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Region V, has determined that the Respondent Bay View Association has not met its burden to prove it is exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act. The investigation into the violations alleged by the Complainants shall now commence," Meade said in the letter.
"Further, please be advised that although we shall make our best efforts to proceed in a manner that minimizes the burden on the time of all parties, additional investigation is required. A data request letter seeking additional responsive records is forthcoming," Meade stated in the letter.
The letter obtained by the News-Review doesn't supply many additional details. Don Duquette, who has been a Bay View cottage owner since 1984 and previously served as a board of trustees member, sent a copy of the letter to the News-Review. He is among several people seeking to change Bay View's religious requirement.
Duquette said there are 19 formal complainants, including himself, who are alleging religious discrimination in Bay View to federal housing authorities. All the complaints, filed in 2016, argued Bay View violated provisions in the Federal Fair Housing Act, along with the state and U.S. constitutions, which assure nondiscrimination based on religious beliefs.
Bogren noted in an email to the News-Review, "it should be pointed out the HUD letter simply states that an investigation will proceed. There has been no finding of discrimination."
Bogren maintains Bay View is exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act because it's a religious organization. He noted it's not clear what the next step will be for Bay View because it will depend on actions of the federal officials.
"The complaints of discrimination filed with HUD are the same as the Title VIII (Fair Housing Act) claims asserted in the lawsuit. These are the same claims that were previously filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in 2014 or 2015. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights at that time found no basis for a determination that religious discrimination occurred in violation of state or federal law. Since the letter from HUD provides absolutely no analysis to support the conclusion Bay View did not prove it is exempt, it is impossible to understand why HUD has now apparently disagreed with the prior MDCR decision," Bogren said in a statement.
According to Bay View's website, the association was founded in 1875 and was part of the Chautauqua Movement, an education and religious movement in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Mike Spencer, Bay View's executive director, also noted the association's mission statement in an email. It states Bay View is "to be an institution in which Christian values and traditions are central; to enrich the human experience for individuals and families within Bay View and the surrounding community through a seasonal program of religious, educational, cultural and recreational opportunities; to provide a Christian perspective in a changing world."
Duquette noted he and the other complainants "love this community" and describes Bay View as "idealistic" other than the Christianity requirement. He said those fighting the religious requirement are hoping to keep Bay VIew's historical connection to the United Methodist Church while keeping the doors open to those of other faiths. He noted the current system doesn't allow for cottage owners to turn their property over to family owners who do not meet the requirements.
The letter comes as Bay View faces a lawsuit filed by opponents of the "Christian persuasion" requirement, which is pending in federal court. Attorney Sarah Prescott, who represents the requirement's opponents, said that while federal housing officials' investigation is separate from the lawsuit, both of them pertain to the same issue.
The federal lawsuit is currently making its way in the court system. The case was filed in July 2017 and has since received international press attention. The lawsuit argues Bay View is organized under the Summer Resort and Assembly Associations Act that gives the association "substantial governmental powers," therefore, it cannot discriminate. Bay View has denied this claim in court documents.
Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief backing opponents of Bay View's religious requirements. In the brief, the ACLU states "the Bay View’s religious restriction for homeownership harkens back to a shameful era in Michigan and U.S. history when overt discrimination and segregation in housing on the basis of race, religion, and other protected characteristics was rampant."
As of the News-Review's press time, officials at the Midwest branch of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had not responded to requests for comment.