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, April 30, 2011

Listen...

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We're getting excited about the upcoming launch of Fair Housing Helper -- aimed at helping multifamily professionals stay in compliance with fair housing laws and avoid costly liability.

Be among the first to check out our first commercial, and come back soon for more information about the launch!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Guest Blogger: LIHTC Owners Risk All by Ignoring Fair Housing Requirements

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Today is the 43rd anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). To mark the occasion, Fairhousingblog.com is pleased to present our first-ever guest blog entry, by housing consultant Liz Bramlet...

It is so tempting to bury our head in the sand. It seems that the ability to delude ourselves is part of the human condition. We can convince ourselves that just because we want something to be false, it is indeed not true. We are forced, however, to see the downside of this practice when the impact of not facing some inconvenient truth stares us straight in the face. I’ve experienced this phenomenon more times than I care to remember in my own life, and recently, I have been reminded of it during discussions with several low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) owners and managers.

I have the pleasure of working with many of the best actors in the LIHTC industry. Be they developers, property managers, syndicators or housing finance agency (HFA) officials, I get to spend my professional life with people committed to providing quality housing for the neediest amongst us and to treating everyone with fairness and respect. Unfortunately, I also interact with owners and managers who refuse to see the importance of their fair housing requirements and of how they treat all the applicants and residents at their communities. It is critical that everyone in the industry understand that a violation of fair housing law is a violation of the LIHTC program that can rise to the level of jeopardizing an owner’s tax credits.

In recent months, several people I have spoken with were under the impression that they need not concern themselves with fair housing compliance because they do not receive any mortgage or rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In many cases, when an owner or a manager believes their LIHTC community is exempt from any fair housing requirements, they are confusing fair housing law with something we in the industry refer to as “Section 504.” Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states (in part):
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Post Office.
The receipt of HUD dollars is considered federal financial assistance. An owner, including an owner of an LIHTC project, with HOME or CDBG funding, a mortgage insured through FHA’s Section 236 program, including projects that have gone through the decoupling process, project-based rental subsidy through the Section 8 program or comparable programs such as RAP, Rental Supplement and PRAC, etc. must implement everything Section 504 requires of them to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Owners of LIHTC projects without HUD dollars are not considered to be in receipt of federal financial assistance so are not covered by Section 504, but they must still protect the rights of the disabled in the operation of their property as required by fair housing law.

Those who want to know what the IRS says about fair housing law and its applicability to the LIHTC program should check out the 8823 Audit Guide. The Guide for Completing Form 8823 Low-Income Housing Credit Agencies Report of Noncompliance or Building Disposition provides instruction for HFA officials on how and when to issue a IRS Form 8823 notifying the IRS they found an owner to be out of compliance with the LIHTC program. In Chapter 13, the IRS explains an owner’s responsibilities under fair housing law, and how an owner jeopardizes their tax credits when failing to meet these responsibilities. Here is a sample of what the IRS has to say:
LIHC properties are subject to Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which makes it unlawful to discriminate in any aspect relating to the sale or rental of dwellings, in the availability of transactions related to residential real estate, or in the provision of services and facilities in connection therewith because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.

HUD is responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act. In so doing, HUD investigates allegations of housing discrimination, attempts to resolve the complaint, and determines whether there is reasonable cause to pursue civil action. If reasonable cause is present, HUD must bring the case before an administrative law judge. In the alternative, if either party elects to have claims or complaints decided in a civil action, HUD must refer the complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution in the United States District Court.

State agencies must report the receipt of notices of Fair Housing Act (FHA) administrative and legal action issued by HUD or the Department of Justice to the Internal Revenue Service. The state agencies are responsible for reporting their receipt of notifications of administrative and legal action by HUD and the Department of Justice as outlined in the MOU. The IRS is responsible for determining whether the owner is out of compliance for purposes of IRC §42, and the associated out of compliance and back in compliance dates, based on the findings of the court proceeding. The determination will be based on the facts of the individual case.
With an understanding of the IRS’ position, it frightens me every time I hear an LIHTC owner or manager say they won’t spend their time or energy learning fair housing law. I’ve seen fair housing law suits destroy organizations. Defending yourself from even a false claim of discrimination can cost an enormous amount of time and money. And in the case of an LIHTC community, a serious finding of discrimination may cause the loss or recapture of tax credits, and the associated equity investment. If the loss of investment is large enough, it can seriously weaken the financial structure of a project. And don’t forget that every year an owner must certify to their compliance with LIHTC requirements, including their adherence to all applicable fair housing laws. You don’t want to be found out of compliance for lying on your owner’s annual certification of compliance.

Please, LIHTC owners, get your head out of the sand. Learn and implement your fair housing requirements. It’s the right thing to do.

Liz Bramlet is President of Liz Bramlet Consulting, LLC. Her firm provides training and consulting services to the affordable housing industry and specializes in the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program. You can learn more about Liz, her firm, and the consulting and training services she offers by checking out her Web site at www.lizbramletconsulting.com, and her training center at www.lbctrainingcenter.com. You can follow Liz on her blog at www.lizbramlet.wordpress.com and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lizbramlet.

(Image © iStockphoto.com/jgroup)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

HUD Kicks Off Fair Housing Month With National Media Campaign Launch

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Fair Housing Month is about commemorating the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and promoting awareness of housing discrimination laws. So, what better way for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to kick off the month than to announce the launch of a new national media campaign?

HUD's new campaign is called "Live Free" and will run throughout the year, according to a press release. Acknowledging that "our society is more technologically advanced today," the campaign will utilize "the latest media tools to better reach all people about housing discrimination and what to do if they experience it," according to John TrasviƱa, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Look for Facebook ads (such as these), digital videos, podcasts and more in the upcoming months that cover a wide range of pressing and prevalent fair housing issues.

Has HUD been doing enough to promote awareness of housing discrimination laws? Do you believe the new "Live Free" campaign will help educate the public about fair housing?

What do you think?

Friday, April 1, 2011

What's on Tap for Fair Housing Month 2011

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Each year, Fair Housing Helper likes to commemorate Fair Housing Month in a different way. If you were following this blog last year, you may remember our honoring the occasion by publishing a new post related to Fair Housing Month for each day of the month.

This year, Fair Housing Helper is pleased to announce the following endeavors aimed at promoting awareness of fair housing laws in the United States:
  1. Fairhousingblog.com will see its first-ever guest blog post in the middle of the month. Written by a nationally recognized housing consultant, the post will shine light on an important aspect of fair housing compliance as it intersects with affordable housing.

  2. The Stark County Real Estate Investors Association (SCREIA) invited me to appear in Canton, Ohio as the keynote speaker at its annual Real Estate Investor Showcase on April 26, 2011. I look forward to presenting a range of important topics for property owners and managers that I detailed in my book, Every Landlord's Property Protection Guide: 10 Ways to Cut Your Risk Now (Nolo 2008). Chief among these topics is fair housing compliance, which can prove very costly even to well-meaning landlords and managers. (If you are interested in attending this event, please visit SCREIA's Event Details page for registration information.)

  3. At the end of the month, I'll make an important announcement that you won't want to miss. So, check back and also feel free to follow me on Twitter @fairhousing!