Real Estate

HUD joins initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing

Forms interagency task force with Justice Department

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it is recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act with its new initiative to increase awareness and reporting of sexual harassment in housing.

The new initiative with the U.S. Department of Justice, announced by HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will create an interagency task force to combat sexual harassment in housing. It also includes an outreach toolkit and a public awareness campaign.

“All discrimination stains the very fabric of our nation, but HUD is especially focused on protecting the right of everyone to feel safe and secure in their homes, free from unwanted sexual harassment,” Carson said. “No person should have to tolerate unwanted sexual advances in order to keep a roof over his or her head.”

“Part of our mission at HUD is to provide safe housing and we will remain diligent in this mission to protect those we serve,” he said. “I look forward to working with Attorney General Sessions and the Department of Justice as part of this task force to bring an end to this type of discrimination.”

Sessions also agreed, saying “sexual harassment in housing is illegal, immoral and unacceptable."

“It is all too common today, as too many landlords, managers, and their employees attempt to prey on vulnerable women,” Sessions said. “We will not hesitate to pursue these predators and enforce the law. In October, I ordered a new initiative to bring more of these cases, and we have already won relief for 15 victims.”

“Today we announce three new steps to make the initiative more effective and to win more cases,” he said. “I want to thank the dedicated and committed professionals in our Civil Rights Division and our partners in the Department of Housing and Urban Development for their hard work in this effort. We will continue to aggressively pursue harassers, because everyone has a right to be safe in their home.”

Back in October, the Justice Department announced its initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing and launched pilot programs in the District of Columbia and western Virginia. The initiative sought to increase the Department’s efforts to protect women from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, other employees and representatives of rental property owners.

During these pilots, the department developed and tested ways to better connect with victims of sexual harassment in housing and with those organizations that victims may turn to first for help including law enforcement, legal services providers, public housing authorities, sexual assault services providers and shelters. The department also tested certain aspects of the initiative in other jurisdictions including New Jersey, central California, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Michigan.

Since then, the department generated six leads. And while the Justice Department explained that leads and investigations do not always lead to enforcement actions, the pilot program’s results, when utilized across all the U.S. attorney’s offices across the country, could lead to hundreds of new reports of sexual harassment in housing across the country.

Because of these results, the department is rolling out these three major components in its new initiative:

1. HUD-DOJ Task Force to Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing: it will drive a shared strategy between the Justice Department and HUD for combatting sexual harassment in housing across the country. It will focus on five key areas: continued data sharing and analysis, joint development of training, evaluation of public housing complaint mechanisms, coordination of public outreach and press strategy and review of federal policies.

2. An outreach toolkit: Designed to leverage the HUD and Justice Department’s nationwide network of U.S. attorney’s offices. The toolkit provides templates, guidance and checklists based on pilot program feedback. It ultimately will amplify available enforcement resources and help victims of sexual harassment connect with the department.

3. The public awareness campaign: Includes three major components including a partnership package with relevant stakeholders, the launch of a social media campaign and public service announcements run by the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. The campaign is specifically designed to raise awareness, and make it easier for victims all over the country to find resources and report harassment.

This initiative comes as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement continues to gain ground as more and more women stand up, tell their stories of sexual harassment or assault and say never again.

In fact, women are even beginning to challenge behavior that was previously considered acceptable, even in the business world.

A recent guest blog on HousingWire written by Jillayne Schlicke, CE Forward educator and consultant, questioned why gender bias in the mortgage industry is still accepted. She asks the question, “how is a daily mortgage lending industry email with disparaging jokes about women still a thing?”

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