Housing Advocates See Discrimination Spike

Internet advertising in violation of fair housing laws, combined with the worsening foreclosure crisis, caused housing discrimination to spike nationwide, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) said Friday in its 2009 Fair Housing Trends Report. The report concludes 93 private non-profit fair housing organizations processed almost twice as many cases of discrimination — made on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familiar status and disability — last year as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the US Justice Department, and 107 state and local government agencies combined. NFHA officials said private fair housing centers around the country saw more cases of discrimination in mortgage lending than ever in 2008. In disproportion, HUD initiated four investigations into lending discrimination last year and the Justice Department pursued only one mortgage lending case. In addition, the report said HUD handled 60 fair lending complaints in 2008, compared with 1,500 complaints handled by private fair housing centers. “Fair housing advocates have been warning the federal government for a decade, to no avail, about the damage that abusive lending would bring,” said Shanna Smith, NFHA president and CEO. “For too long, HUD and the Justice Department have stood by while people and neighborhoods of color have been targeted for predatory loans and stripped of equity.” NFHA said it attributes the increase in complaints to the large number of discriminatory housing ads on the internet. NFHA alone filed more than 350 complaints based on internet advertising discrimination with HUD last year. Officials claimed in a media statement that “HUD refuses to use its subpoena power to find the individuals posting discriminatory ads,” the majority of which discriminate against families with children. But NFHA’s statement fails to acknowledge challenges HUD faces with its staffing and resources. In prepared comments for an early April Senate subcommittee hearing, HUD secretary Shaun Donovan acknowledged the department, and particularly the Federal Housing Administration, needs updated information technology systems and increased staff. The US Senate last week voted 92-4 in favor of Senate bill 386, called the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, which provides $490m over the next two fiscal years for mortgage fraud investigation by regulatory agencies like HUD. The legislation allows $75m in fiscal year 2010 and $65m in fiscal year 2011 for the FBI to use its resources to go after suspected fraudsters. Furthermore, $50m goes to the US Attorneys’ office. Up to $40m in funding goes to the Justice Department, to be shared among the criminal, civil and tax divisions. The legislation also would provide $30m each fiscal year to HUD’s Inspector General for investigation of fraudulent and discrimatory cases like those reported by NFHA. Write to Diana Golobay at [email protected].

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