Study Finds More Subtle Housing Discrimination Persists in US

A new report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on June 11, 2013, finds that while blatant acts of housing discrimination have declined in the U.S., “more subtle forms of housing denial stubbornly persist” in both the rental and sales markets. The study, titled “Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities 2012,” was conducted by the Urban Institute and is based on over 8,000 controlled fair housing tests conducted in 28 metropolitan areas across the country in 2011 and 2012. It examined the treatment of African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans, and whites who approached housing providers offering both rentals and homes for sale.

According to a HUD press release, the report shows that

[r]eal estate agents and rental housing providers recommend and show fewer available homes and apartments to minority families, thereby increasing their costs and restricting their housing options. The study concludes this is a national, not a regional, phenomenon.

Specifically, the report found that African Americans who contact rental agents are told about 11% fewer units and shown 4% fewer units than white renters. Latinos/Hispanics learn about 12% fewer units and are shown 7% fewer units than white, while Asian Americans are told about 10% fewer units and shown 7% fewer units.

Discrimination was more evident in the sales market, where African Americans who contacted real estate agents about recently advertised homes were informed about 17% fewer available homes and shown 18% ewer units than white homebuyers. Asian Americans were informed about 15% fewer homes and shown 19% fewer units than whites. There was no statistically significant difference between Latino/Hispanic homebuyers and whites.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted, “Fewer minorities today may be getting the door slammed in their faces, but we continue to see evidence of housing discrimination that can limit a family’s housing, economic and educational opportunities.”

The report is the fourth in a series of decennial studies of housing discrimination in the rental and sales markets. The study used matched pair testing, in which two testers of different races or ethnicities were sent to a randomly selected housing provider. The two testesr in each pair were matched in gender, age, and family composition and assigned the same financial characteristics. Each tester independently recorded their treatment, which was then analyzed by researchers to determine if there were any differences based on race or ethnicity.

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in the rental or sale of a dwelling based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex/gender, disability, or familial status. North Carolina law also prohibits such discrimination under the State Fair Housing Act.

To read the HUD press release about the report, click here.

To read the full report, click here.

Wells Fargo Bank Settles Fair Housing Complaint Over REO Property Maintenance

On June 6, 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., will invest $39 million in 45 communities across the country to settle a fair housing complaint over how it maintained Real Estate Owned (REO) property in a number of communities across the country. REO property is property that a bank or other lender purchases after foreclosure. The complaint alleged that Wells Fargo maintained and marketed REO properties “in a state of disrepair in predominantly African-American, Latino, and other non-White communities” compared to REO properties in predominantly White communities, which were “in a materially better condition.”

The money Wells Fargo has committed to invest is intended to help improve housing in minority neighborhoods that have been hard hit by the foreclosure crisis and will support homeownership, neighborhood stabilization, property rehabilitation and housing development. 

The settlement resolves a fair housing complaint filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance and 13 private fair housing organizations. According to a NFHA press release announcing the settlement,

This is the first-ever agreement regarding the equal maintenance and marketing of REO homes. The agreement is the result of a federal housing discrimination complaint filed in April 2012 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The complaint alleged that Wells Fargo’s REO properties in white areas were much better maintained and marketed by Wells Fargo than REO properties in African-American and Latino neighborhoods. In addition to the $27 million to promote homeownership, Wells Fargo will pay $3 million to NFHA and the 13 fair housing organizations for costs and damages, including diversion of resources incurred in connection with the investigations, and attorney fees. Wells Fargo is also committing $300,000 for the two national conferences and $250,000 to NFHA and local fair housing centers to hold seminars and address delinquencies and foreclosures.

The parties to the agreement with Wells Fargo are: Denver Metro Fair Housing Center, Denver, CO; Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Indianapolis, IN; Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, Grand Rapids, MI; Fair Housing Continuum, Inc., Melbourne, FL; Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, New Orleans, LA; HOPE Fair Housing Center, West Chicago, IL; Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc., Miami, FL; Metro Fair Housing Services, Inc., Atlanta, GA; Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, Milwaukee, WI; Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Dayton, OH; North Texas Fair Housing Center, Dallas, TX; South Suburban Housing Center, Homewood, IL; and Toledo Fair Housing Center, Toledo, OH.

To read the full conciliation agreement, click here.

To read NFHA’s fair housing complaint, click here.

To read HUD’s press release about the settlement, click here.

HUD Issues Guidance on Community-Based Housing for People with Disabilities

On June 4, 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new guidance to “encourage participation in state efforts” to assist individuals with disabilities who are “moving out of institutions and into [community-based] housing.” The guidance, titled “Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Role of Housing in Accomplishing the Goals of Olmstead,” is part of HUD’s efforts to ensure compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Olmstead v. L.C., in 1999, which held that unjustified segregation of individuals with disabilities violdated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The HUD guidance notes that recipients of federal funding not only are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilites but also have an obligation to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFHA). This obligation could include activities such as “providing integrated, affordable housing opportunities for individuals with disabilities,” developing or rehabilitating units that contain “universal accessibility and visitability features that go beyond the minimum accessibility requirements established by federal laws and regulations,” and affirmative marketing, and other “innovative ways to further the integration of individuals with disabilities throughout their communities.”

In a press release issued with the guidance, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted: “There is a tremendous need for affordable housing where individuals with disabilities are able to live and be part of the very fabric of their communities.” Donovan continued by stating

“HUD will continue to work with the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, Congress, our grantees, and disability rights organizations to ensure that HUD programs provide meaningful access to integrated housing opportunities for the individuals with disabilities we serve.”

In the guidance, HUD encourages Public Housing Agencies and other housing providers that receive federal financial assistance to “partner with state and local governments to provide additioanl community-based, integrated housing opportunities for individuals with disabilities transitioning out of, or at serious risk of entering, institutions or other segregated settings.” HUD notes that that the guidance is limited to HUD funding and programs and its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, while the Department of Justice has been delegated authority to interpret Title II of the ADA.

To read HUD’s full guidance, click here.

To read the Department of Justice’s statement on Title II of the ADA and the Olmstead decision, click here.

Fair Housing Project Test Coordinator Position Announcement

The Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) is currently looking for a Test Coordinator to assist us in our systemic and complaint-based testing program. For the full position announcement, please visit the LANC website by clicking here.

HUD Issues Guidance on Assistance Animals and Reasonable Accommodations for People with Disabilities

On April 25, 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released new guidance regarding “service animals” and “assistance animals” for people with disabilities. The notice, signed by HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña, explains housing providers’ obligations under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities who have assistance animals. It further discusses the Department of Justice’s 2010 revised definition of “service animals” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as situations where each law is applicable.

The memo notes that the Fair Housing Act’s requirements apply “regardless of the presence of Federal financial assistance.” Section 504, by contrast, applies only to recipients of financial assistance from HUD.

Under both laws, housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who need assistance animals. Unlike ”service animals” under the ADA, “assistance animals” under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 are not required to be individually trained or certified. Moreover, the memo notes that “breed, size and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal,” although a housing provider may deny a request for an assistance animal where

(1) the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, or (2) the specific assistance animal in question would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.

To read HUD’s guidance, click here.

Registration Open for 2013 Fair Housing Conference

Registration is open for the 2013 Fair Housing Conference being sponsored by the Fair Housing Project and the Raleigh Fair Housing Hearing Board. The conference will be held on Friday, April 26, 2013, from 8 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with breakfast and lunch being provided. This year’s conference will be held at the Raleigh Convention Center, located at 500 S. Salisbury Street, Raleigh, NC 27601.

The keynote speaker will be Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Additional panels at the conference will be:

“Building Bridges: Supportive Housing and Communities of Color”
Expanding the availability of housing for disabled persons improves and enriches the lives not only of residents but of our cities in general as well. Are all communities being equally affected by the expansion of such housing opportunities? This plenary will discuss how communities of color and supportive housing providers and residents can better work together to increase the availability of needed supportive housing. It will also address fair housing issues and concerns.

“Overcoming Criminal Records as a Barrier to Housing”
Criminal history policies in North Carolina have created substantial barriers to affordable housing for adults and juveniles with criminal records; which can range from charges that were dismissed to misdemeanor and felony convictions. This workshop will discuss how these policies have isolated individuals from affordable housing (focusing on the disproportionate impact upon African American and Latino persons) and how requiring reasonable limitations on criminal history policies can reduce barriers to successful re-entry.

“New Perspectives: Housing Challenges Faced by African and Asian Immigrants”
Census data reveal that North Carolina is becoming more diverse, with a greater number of both Asian and African immigrants. This workshop will discuss housing problems experienced by these immigrant communities. Panelists will focus on cultural and language barriers, the unique challenges these communities face in North Carolina, and successful attempts to address housing discrimination against them.

Registration information:

Pre-registration in required, and attendees must be 18 years or older. Register online or download a registration form by visiting the City of Raleigh’s conference registration page. There is a non-refundable registration fee.

Early registration (before April 12) is $10 for Wake County residents and $25 for non-Wake County residents.

Late registration is $15 for Wake County residents and $30 for non-Wake County residents.

For more information on the conference, contact Stacey Lundy at the City of Raleigh or Jewette Williams at the Fair Housing Project.

HUD Issues Disparate Impact Rule

On February 8, 2013, HUD announced that it was publishing a new rule implementing the Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects (“disparate impact”) standard. While in most cases an individual bringing a complaint under the Fair Housing Act must show that the opposing party acted with an intent to discriminate, under the disparate impact theory, an individual instead may show that a challenged act or rule has a discriminatory effect based on a prohibited ground. The rule, published in the Federal Register on February 15, will take effect on March 18, 2013.

In a press release announcing the new rule, HUD stated that it was

statutorily charged with the authority and responsibility for interpreting and enforcing the Fair Housing Act and has long interpreted the Act to prohibit housing practices with an unjustified discriminatory effect, if those acts actually or predictably result in a disparate impact on a group of persons, or create, increase, reinforce, or perpetuate segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

In addition, the agency noted that all 11 federal courts of appeals that have considered the issue have found that individuals may prove a case by proving a disparate impact in certain instances.

Issuing a disparate impact rule had been on HUD’s regulatory agenda for many years. The proposed rule had been published on November 16, 2011, and received 96 public comments by a wide variety of groups, including fair housing and legal aid organizations, state and local fair housing agencies, state Attorneys General, state housing finance agencies, public housing agencies, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, real estate agents, law firms, and others.

Click here to view the new rule.

Research Links Higher Racial Segregation with Increased Cancer

A study published in the January 2013 issue of the medical journal JAMA Surgery finds that African Americans have higher lung cancer mortality rates than whites and that African Americans who live in the most segregated counties in the U.S. have 20% higher mortality rates than African Americans who live in less segregated counties. By contrast, whites who live in more segregated areas have 6% lower mortality rates from lung cancer than whites living in less segregated areas. The gap in outcomes persisted even after accounting for differences in smoking rates and socio-economic status

According to a New York Times article describing the study,

The study was the first to look at segregation as a factor in lung cancer mortality. Its authors said they could not fully explain why it worsens the odds of survival for African-Americans, but hypothesized that blacks in more segregated areas may be less likely to have health insurance or access to health care and specialty doctors. It is also possible that lower levels of education mean they are less likely to seek care early, when medical treatment could make a big difference. Racial bias in the health care system might also be a factor.

Lung cancer is the top cause of preventable death in the United States. Blacks have the highest incidence of it and are also more likely to die from it. For every million black males, 860 will die from lung cancer, compared with 620 among every million white males. The rates were calculated over the period of the study, from 2003 to 2007.

To read the New York Times article on the study, click here. To read the abstract of the JAMA Surgery study, click here.


HUD Settles with Bank of America Over LGBT Discrimination

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it had settled a discrimination complaint with Bank of America for allegedly refusing to provide a mortgage loan to a lesbian couple from Florida. According to a press release issued by HUD, the agreement is the first enforcement action taken against a lender involving HUD’s recent rule requiring that the HUD’s “core housing programs” be open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

Under the terms of the agreement, Bank of America will pay HUD $7,500; notify its residential mortgage loan originators, processors, and underwriters of its Settlement Agreement with HUD; remind its employees that they are prohibited from discriminating against FHA-loan applicants on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status; and update its fair lending training program to include information on HUD’s rule.

HUD issued its rule regarding LGBT gender equality in February 2012. The rule applies to all housing programs administered by the Department, including lenders who issue loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Among other things, the rule prohibits such lenders from basing eligibility determinations for mortgage loans on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

Commenting on the settlement in the press release, HUD General Counsel Helen Kanovsky stated: “This agreement demonstrates that HUD will vigorously enforce its Equal Access rule and pursue lenders that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.” John Trasviña, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, added,

“The HUD Equal Access Rule means just what it says: one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status is not a legitimate basis on which to deny a mortgage. Members of the housing industry should take note of this settlement agreement. HUD will enforce its regulations to make sure its programs are truly open to all qualified families.”

HUD claimed Bank of America denied a loan to a Florida couple seeking to obtain an FHA-insured mortgage because of their sexual orientation and marital status.  Because one partner was not employed, the applicant enlisted her partner’s mother as a co-applicant on the loan.  The couple worked with BOA for several weeks to provide all of the necessary loan application documents and the couple was assured by BOA that they were likely to receive a mortgage.  One business day prior to closing, BOA denied the mortgage because it did not consider the loan applicant and the co-applicant directly related because the applicant and her partner were not married.  As a result of BOA’s actions, the couple was not able to close on the loan.

To read HUD’s press release regarding this settlement, click here. To read HUD’s rule on Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, click here.

Fair Housing Project Seeking Bilingual Attorney

The Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina is currently accepting applications for a new bilingual (English and Spanish) staff attorney position. Application materials are due by January 1, 2013. Visit the Legal Aid website here to view the full job description.