Housing Discrimination Complaints Top Record High

Consumers filed a record 10,552 fair housing discrimination complaints in fiscal year 2008, according to an annual congressional report prepared by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on basis of race, color, nationality, religion, gender, disability and familial status. Fiscal year ’08 marked the third consecutive fiscal year of more than 10,000 complaints within these categories. Discrimination based on disability accounted for 44% of the complaints while 35% of complaints alleged discrimination based on race. Complaints were filed on the basis of alleged discrimination in terms, conditions, privileges, services, or facilities involved in the sale or rental of housing. “Fighting against housing discrimination and affirmatively furthering fair housing are twin priorities of HUD and the Obama Administration,” says John Trasviña, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, in a media statement today. The department’s efforts toward those ends are evident in the volume of complaints processed and closed. In the same fiscal year, HUD closed 11,189 discrimination complaints — also a record high. The congressional report touts HUD’s efforts to bring monetary relief to victims of illegal discrimination: forgiveness of a second loan worth $75,000 and modification of the primary loan to a 5% interest rate for a Hispanic couple, a $20,000 settlement for a mother who was denied a house rental because she had a child, and a $40,000 settlement for a family that was denied an accommodation for a child’s disability. HUD also touted having donated $5,000 to charity groups for autism and early childhood development. “HUD has an array of weapons to combat housing discrimination,” Trasviña says. “Most important are the partnerships with state, local and other agencies, private fair housing organizations and responsible industry officials who, together with HUD are on the front lines to advance fair housing and fair lending policies.” But according to one consumer group, even these partnerships don’t allow HUD to do as much as needed to keep discrimination down. In early May, a report by the National Fair Housing Alliance concluded that 93 private non-profit fair housing organizations processed almost twice as many cases of discrimination in 2008 as HUD, the US Justice Department and 107 state and local government agencies combined. NFHA’s report failed 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. A $490m piece of mortgage fraud legislation signed into law in mid-May, however, calls for millions of dollars split between government and regulator departments to hire fraud persecutors and increase efforts to crack down on mortgage lending companies not regulated or insured by the government. The preventative efforts aim to reduce risky or inappropriate mortgages originated on fraudulent terms. The increased effort to crack down on fraud might scale back cases of discrimination in reports going forward. Write to Diana Golobay.

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