Fair Housing vs. Unfair Housing

Do you know the difference?

Knowing the difference between fair housing and unfair housing isn't as obvious as you might think. This blog aims to present a variety of important and interesting fair housing issues.

If you're an apartment professional, avoid costly mistakes by reading the stories of others who — even with good intentions — learned compliance lessons the hard way. (For the easy way, click here.)

If you live in an apartment, get familiar with your rights when it comes to housing discrimination, as well as your options for seeking justice.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

DOJ Issues Year-End Report on Fair Housing Enforcement

The Department of Justice (DOJ) this month released a "written statement" to report on its efforts in combating housing discrimination across the United States. The report noted several achievements:
  • In fiscal years 2007 and 2008, the DOJ obtained settlements and judgments in fair housing and fair lending cases requiring the payment of a total of up to $12 million in monetary damages to victims of discrimination and civil penalties to the government.

  • In fiscal year 2008, 39% of the DOJ's total cases and 45% of its pattern or practice cases alleged race discrimination.

  • In fiscal year 2008, the DOJ conducted more than 600 paired tests, exceeding by almost 25% the number of tests conducted in fiscal year 2007, which in turn significantly exceeded the next highest number of tests conducted in any previous year since the inception of the DOJ's new testing program.
The statement, however, concluded on a more cautiously optimistic note:
In sum, the Division has contributed a great deal to the fight against housing and lending discrimination in this nation. Yet there remains much work to be done, and we will continue to dedicate our energy and resources to exposing and eliminating discriminatory housing and lending practices.
Let's see what 2009 will bring...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Obama Taps Donovan to Lead HUD

Shaun Donovan, New York City's housing commissioner, will be the next secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), president-elect Barack Obama announced during his weekly radio address this morning. Mr. Obama noted that:
With experience that stretches from the public sector to the private sector to academia, Shaun will bring to this important post fresh thinking, unencumbered by old ideology and outdated ideas. He understands that we need to move past the stale arguments that say low-income Americans shouldn't even try to own a home or that our mortgage crisis is due solely to a few greedy lenders.
HUD is the federal agency charged with primary responsibility for enforcing the Fair Housing Act.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Glimpsing the Future of Fair Housing

This has been a pivotal year for the Fair Housing Act, as we have marked the 40th anniversary of the law that famously earned President Johnson's signature on April 11, 1968, exactly one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As with any anniversary, it has been a time not only to reflect on where we once were and how far we've come, but — even more importantly — where we should be headed and what roadmap will take us there.

Yesterday, coinciding with the anniversary and in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity released a much-anticipated report on the state of fair housing.

You may be surprised to learn that, according to the report:

More than four million instances of housing discrimination occur annually in the United States and yet fewer than 30,000 complaints are filed every year. In 2007, the 10 HUD offices processed 2,440 complaints, the 105 FHAP agencies processed 7,700 inquiries, and the 81 private fair housing agencies processed 18,000 complaints. Literally millions of acts of rental, sales, lending, and insurance discrimination, racial and sexual harassment discrimination, and zoning and land use discrimination go virtually unchecked. [Citation: Oral Testimony of Shanna Smith (Atlanta).]

So, where do we go from here?

The Commission offers a number of recommendations, aimed at increasing both the level and the efficiency of fair housing enforcement. Most notably, the Commission pushes for the creation of an independent fair housing enforcement agency to replace the existing enforcement structure at HUD. This new agency would have the staff, support, and resources "to make fair housing a reality."

The Commission's other recommendations include the revival of the President's Fair Housing Council; greater compliance with the Fair Housing Act's requirement that the government and its grantees "affirmatively further fair housing"; the strengthening of the Fair Housing Inititiatives Program (FHIP), which funds fair housing enforcement and education across the country; the adoption of a regional approach to fair housing; the emphasizing of fair housing principles in programs addressing the mortgage and financial crisis; the creation of a stronger fair housing awareness campaign; and the pursuit of a collaborative approach to fair housing issues.

When we look back another 40 years from now, perhaps it will be these recommendations that will have proven their merit in shaping the future of fair housing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Remembering Why Accessible Apartments Are Accessible

It sounds like a reasonable rule for an apartment complex that offers some accessible apartments: Let tenants without disabilities rent an accessible apartment, but have them agree to move if a tenant with a disability should need the apartment as an accommodation.

One lawsuit and an undisclosed financial settlement later, that's the rule that a federally assisted complex in Henrietta, New York has agreed to adopt, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. The lawsuit was brought by a former tenant who, as a paraplegic, was promised one of the complex's six accessible apartments but then told there's a three-year waiting list. The accessible apartments featured wider doors and other amenities aimed at helping people who use wheelchairs navigate the apartment and use kitchen counters. However, all six such apartments were reportedly occupied by tenants who didn't need them, while the one who did struggled in a nonaccessible apartment.

Making sure that accessible apartments get used by the very people for whom they were intended makes sense, don't you think?