Housing bias continues nationwide
Wed Apr 3,10:30 AM ET

The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the nation's leading civil rights organization focused on the elimination of housing discrimination, released its annual "Trends Report" which documents reported acts of illegal discrimination nationwide. The report reveals that the level of housing discrimination complaints filed by African Americans and people with disabilities in 2001 remained high throughout the United States.

 

 

The new report is based on 2001 complaint data compiled from fair housing agencies across the country, including: NFHA's membership of more than 80 private, local fair housing organizations; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (news - web sites) (HUD); the U.S. Department of Justice (news - web sites) (DOJ); and more than 70 state and local government agencies. Race was the most commonly reported basis for housing discrimination in the United States (32% of all complaints), followed by disability and familial status (24% and 15% of all complaints, respectively). Complaints based on national origin discrimination comprise the next highest category of discrimination (10%). There are significantly fewer cases based on sex, religion or "color," although most complainants who would be classified as persons of color tend to file a complaint based on race or national origin.

The report was released at the beginning of Fair Housing Month, which marks the historic signing of the federal Fair Housing Act into law in April 1968.

"Though the Fair Housing Act was signed into law just days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the American dream of equal access to apartments, homes, mortgage loans and homeowners insurance continues to elude a vast majority of people whom the law was intended to protect," said NFHA President Shanna Smith. "The events of September 11 brought our diverse nation together in many ways but appeared to have no discernible impact on the housing-related manifestations of racial and other types of prejudice."

Illegal housing practices experienced by Hispanics and Asians are still seriously underreported, as is sexual harassment of female tenants in rental housing. Rental audit investigations conducted in Fresno, San Antonio and Houston indicate that Hispanics seeking rental units face discrimination more than 70 percent of the time, yet these numbers are not reflected in reporting nationwide. While discrimination in housing rentals continues to represent the largest percentage of the total caseload (75 percent in 2001), complaints of lending discrimination have risen steadily over the past several years.

According to NFHA, the 24,000 complaints documented by the Trends Report represent just a small fraction of the annual incidence of housing discrimination across the United States. HUD estimates that two million Americans actually experience housing discrimination every year. Most of the victims of housing discrimination who do come forward are assisted at some point by one of more than 80 private fair housing organizations-NFHA members-across the country.

"It is discouraging that, even today, people who work hard, maintain good credit and have strong references are still being discriminated against because of the color of their skin," said Miguel Mora, a New York resident who experienced housing discrimination. "We are thankful that organizations like the Open Housing Center in New York exist to help corroborate suspicions of discrimination and enforce the legal right of every American to access the housing they want, and for which they qualify." The Open Housing Center is a NFHA member organization.

The 2001 complaint data break down as follows: 16,500 complaints to private fair housing agencies across the country; 5,041 complaints to state and local civil rights agencies; 1,902 complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and 64 cases handled by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"The persistence of illegal housing discrimination-and the crucial role that fair housing organizations play in fighting it- highlights the need to increase federal funding for local fair housing enforcement, education and outreach efforts under HUD's Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP)," said Smith. FHIP provides funding for enforcement, education and outreach activities by private fair housing organizations. Despite the chronic nature of housing discrimination, funding for these program activities for the entire nation has remained less than $25 million and has fallen in recent years as low as $15 million.

To mark Fair Housing Month, NFHA also announced a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign for television, created in conjunction with the Ad Council. In addition, NFHA released a new fair housing poster that celebrates award-winning children's book author Jaqueline Woodson's portrayal of the issue of residential segregation.

In April 1968, Congress passed the Federal Fair Housing Act. In 1988, Congress passed an amendment expanding the Act's coverage. The Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability in most housing-related transactions, including apartment rental, home sales, homeowners insurance and mortgage lending. The Act was designed to eliminate residential segregation in the United States.

About the National Fair Housing Alliance (www.nationalfairhousing.org) Founded in 1988, the National Fair Housing Alliance is a consortium of more than 100 private, non-profit fair housing organizations, state and local civil rights groups, and individuals from 37 states and the District of Columbia. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., NFHA, through comprehensive education, advocacy and enforcement programs, provides equal access to apartments, houses, mortgage loans and insurance policies for millions of people. NFHA pioneered agreements with several of the country's largest insurance companies, including State Farm, Allstate, Nationwide and Liberty Mutual. These agreements have changed insurance underwriting guidelines, funded local programs to expand housing opportunities in urban neighborhoods, and modified the use of credit reports for securing insurance.