In fiscal year 2006, HUD received 10,328 housing discrimination complaints, a record high and 65 percent more than the 6,270 complaints filed in 1996. The increase has both positive and negative implications for the agency's ongoing fight against discrimination in America.
“The numbers indicate that discrimination is still going on in this country, which of course we lament,” says Bryan Greene, HUD's deputy assistant secretary for enforcement and programs. “However, we are pleased that our education and outreach program is working and leading people to file complaints with HUD so HUD can address the discrimination.”
The number of complaints filed with HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program agencies has increased steadily over the past few years, though it's difficult to determine whether the increase stems from more discrimination incidents, an increased knowledge of the fair housing laws, or simply more willingness to report unlawful discrimination. One thing is certain: The type of complaints has remained relatively stable. In FY 2006, people filed the largest number of complaints on the basis of disability (4,110) and race (4,043), with familial status and national origin complaints trailing behind with 1,433 and 1,427 claims, respectively. Overall, the complaints most often alleged either discrimination in the terms and conditions of the sale or rental of housing, or refusal to rent.
HUD doesn't just sit and wait for these types of complaints to be filed. The agency can initiate its own investigation of a housing provider or lender and is increasingly relying on this power as research shows that only a small fraction of people who have faced discrimination actually file a complaint. “In the last two years we have brought forth more of these [HUD] secretary-initiated cases than we brought in the 15 years prior,” says Greene.
In addition to these HUD-initiated cases, the agency also has a host of aggressive education plans to inform the public of what constitutes housing discrimination. One big initiative is Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST, a training program designed to educate architects and owners on the act's accessible design and construction requirements.
The Texas Apartment Association is participating in a workshop next month. “Quite frankly, we still find members who are unaware of the strict requirements of the Fair Housing Act with regards to accessibility provisions,” says George Allen, executive vice president of the Texas Apartment Association.