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.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Funding Announcement Puts FHIP in Spotlight

When reading about fair housing enforcement, you've probably come across the term "FHIP" but may not know exactly what it means. These letters stand for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program, which was established by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1987, as amended by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced on January 21 that it awarded $26.3 million under the FHIP to 98 fair housing organizations and other non-profit agencies in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

What's all this money used for?

HUD funds fair housing organizations and other non-profits through the FHIP to provide direct assistance to people who believe they've been the victims of Fair Housing Act (FHA) violations. The recipient organizations help people identify government agencies that handle complaints of housing discrimination, and conduct preliminary investigation of claims (including sending testers to the properties in question).

In addition, the FHIP promotes fair housing laws and equal opportunity awareness through four initiatives. One of the initiatives, the Administrative Enforcement Initiative (AEI), helps state and local governments that administer laws similar to the FHA establish projects that broaden an agency's range of enforcement and compliance activities. According to HUD, there are currently no funds available for the AEI initiative.

The other three initiatives provide funds and competitive grants to organizations that qualify:

  1. The Fair Housing Organizations Initiative (FHOI). The FHOI provides funds to help non-profit fair housing organizations handle fair housing enforcement and education initiatives more effectively. HUD recently announced that it awarded $21.1 million in grants under the FHOI this year.

  2. The Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI). The PEI offers a range of assistance to the nationwide network of fair housing groups. This initiative funds non-profit fair housing organizations to carry out testing and enforcement activities to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices. HUD recently announced that it awarded $3.1 million in grants under the PEI this year.

  3. The Education and Outreach Initiative (EOI). The EOI provides funding to state and local government agencies and non-profit organizations for initiatives that bring awareness and understanding to equal opportunity in housing means and that increase housing providers' familiarity with FHA compliance. HUD recently announced that it awarded $2.1 million in grants under the EOI this year.

Do you think the FHIP funds go to a worthy cause? Is $26.3 million too much or too little?

What do you think?

Monday, January 18, 2010

On MLK Day, Considering the Future of the Fair Housing Act

Today, the United States celebrates the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose work as a civil rights leader led to the passage of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA). President Lyndon Johnson signed the Act into law on April 11, 1968, one week after Dr. King's assassination.

As originally passed, the FHA banned discrimination based on four protected classes — race, color, religion, and national origin. The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 added sex to the list, and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 brought the number of protected classes to seven, with the addition of familial status and handicap (more commonly referred to as "disability").

For the past roughly 22 years, the number of protected classes under the FHA has remained at seven. Will the FHA ever be amended again to add more protected classes? If so, which ones, and when? Should the FHA be amended?

What do you think?

Friday, January 15, 2010

LANDMARK: $7.4 Million Retrofitting Is Part of Largest Fair Housing Disability Settlement

Fair housing cases involving retrofitting come with great frustration. It's not just that the needed changes are often costly, but it's the notion that the expenses — not to mention the underlying inaccessibility problem — could have been avoided had the building's owner and architect been aware of (and taken seriously) all applicable accessibility laws.

Here's how retrofitting cases usually play out:

  1. A building constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 that was supposed to have been built in compliance with the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) design and construction requirements wasn't.

  2. Tenants with mobility impairments who live in the building struggle to enjoy their apartment living, having difficulty with basic activities such as navigating through their apartments and accessing outlets and switches.

  3. The tenants bring a fair housing complaint against the owners for violating the FHA's ban on disability-based discrimination.

  4. The court finds in favor of the tenants and, in addition to assessing damages and other penalties, orders the owners to retrofit the building to get it in compliance.

On Wednesday, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and its member fair housing organizations announced a record settlement with California-based A.G. Spanos Companies ("Spanos"), the nation's fifth-largest housing developer.

Within three years, Spanos has agreed to retrofit 12,300 units in 82 buildings in 14 states — at an estimated cost of $7.4 million. The number of buildings would have been 123, but 41 Spanos-owned buildings have too many complications to undergo retrofitting. Instead, Spanos has agreed to commit $4.2 million over five years to a national accessibility fund, aimed at offering retrofitting grants for apartments across the United States.

On top of the retrofitting, Spanos has agreed to pay $1.325 million in attorneys' fees, $950,000 in compensatory damages, $750,000 for the establishment of local retrofit funds, $100,000 toward a national media campaign, and $40,000 for the creation of an accessibility coalition.

The settlement is considered a record for fair housing accessibility. Click here for a full summary of the settlement, courtesy of the NFHA.

Interesting to note:

  • Spanos was reportedly "shocked" to learn that the buildings weren't built in compliance with the FHA's design and construction requirements. According to a report from the San Diego Union Tribune, the company claims to have hired and relied on competent architects and other professionals to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, but they apparently dropped the ball.

  • Alex Spanos, who founded A.G. Spanos Construction in 1960, has owned the San Diego Chargers since 1984 and formed the Chargers Community Foundation in 1995.