March 24, 2011

Walking the Fair Housing beat

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Just as a police officer enforces the law, an Equal Opportunity Specialist at HUD enforces the Fair Housing Act that prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing based on race/color, national origin, disability, religion, family status, and gender. One of the duties of these fair housing cops walking the beat is to investigate and settle allegations of housing discrimination.

Recently, HUD’s Stephanie Waller worked on a case involving claims a mortgage lender refused to accept a loan application from the adult son of a Louisiana woman with disabilities. In the end, Charles Schwab Bank agreed to pay $30,000 to settle the charges. I asked Ms. Waller the following questions about what’s it like to investigate fair housing cases:

What’s a “typical day” like for you?

As part of a fair housing investigation, HUD will interview the complainant, the respondent, and pertinent witnesses, so a typical day for me might involve interviewing key parties and witnesses, preparing data requests and analyzing pertinent documents relevant to a discrimination allegation.

How involved were you in the recent Charles Schwab agreement?

For this case, I obtained pertinent information after interviewing both parties and introduced conciliation as a viable resolution. The Fair Housing Act requires HUD to bring the parties together to attempt conciliation throughout the investigation of every fair housing complaint. The choice to conciliate the complaint is completely voluntary on the part of both parties. In this case, Charles Schwab agreed to pay the victims $30,000 as well as modify some of its existing policies to settle the discrimination claim.

What kind of experience do you need to investigate housing discrimination cases?

It doesn’t hurt to have good communication and negotiation skills, a background in investigating, researching, civil rights, and a passion to help people. That’s what a career in public service is all about.

Would you like to be a fair housing cop charged with enforcing the Fair Housing Act? And if you feel like you’ve been a victim of housing discrimination contact us or call 1-800-669-9777.

7 Responses to Walking the Fair Housing beat

  1. So not true i have been trying to be heard since 2002 alls i get from HUD is past-one and when they say they will help..never here a word back!

  2. Trying to do a short sale W/Bank of America for a client seller and we have had 2 offers w/no response from the bank in a timely manner and the buyers back out. The seller and I feel we are discriminated against and the seller happens to be black. We are trying to avoid foreclosure, and we are getting no help from Bank of America. Can you help?
    Jill Slyter
    RE/MAX Bi-State
    Davenport, Ia.
    563-340-9177

  3. Hello Jill,
    If you feel like you have been discriminated against, you can call our Housing Discrimination Hotline at 1-800-669-9777 (Voice) | 1-800-927-9275 (TTY). You can also visit HUD’s Fair Housing web page for more information.

  4. I wish this rosy view of HUD Fair Housing investigations was true for everyone.

    In 2008, my sister and I filed twin housing discrimination complaints against the former management of the Mission Gardens Apartments, a privately owned Section 8 project in Santa Cruz, California. They were investigated by Region IX FHEO.

    Because the first investigator in my sister’s complaint and her supervisor were harassing my sister in telephone calls to her workplace and illegally placing her on speakerphone, I was forced to step in to represent her. With some effort, I was able to have the harassing investigator removed from the case.

    The new investigator never provided us an opportunity to debut the respondents’ defenses, didn’t interview the witnesses I requested, and didn’t require the respondents’ to substantiate their many slanderous claims against my sister and I. Moreover, Fair Housing allowed the respondents to try to evict both of us during this Fair Housing complaint without sanction.

    Worse, the new investigator and the Region IX FHEO Director took the testimony of drug dealers, drug addicts and alcoholics — all who were mobilized in a campaign by the respondents to run us out of the apartment complex — while never providing us an opportunity to rebut their false testimony.

    Moreover, key documents in the case files proved these drug dealers, addicts and alcoholics were not credible, that they were retaliating against us for our reporting them to the police for their criminal activities.

    Comically, they took as credible a wheelchair bound women who can’t hold a tissue without dropping it yet insists that she can drive safely to be a valid witness. This women claimed I had harassed her for reporting her reckless driver to the police. Soon after the police had her license revoked.

    Somewhat strangely, this same women and her boyfriend had almost been evicted for having sex and walking nude in front of their open windows while watching pornographic movies on their TV. Because we reported this to the police, forcing the management to stop this lewd behavior, this couple also had an axe to grind against us for that. My FHEO investigator obtained the cease or be evicted letter from the respondents’ attorney against this couple for their public sex and nudity, yet she allowed this couple to become the respondents’ star witnesses! How could FHEO take the respondents to be credible when they would take testimony against us from a drug addicted couple who they had tried to evict about 18 months before?

    All during these investigations I was directly communicating with the Region IX FHEO director. He knew all about our cases. Because of his incompetence, I was forced to advocate with his superiors at FHEO Headquarters in Washington DC. He wasn’t happy about this. In fact, we allege he intentionally discriminated against us because I made him look stupid to his superiors.

    San Francisco FHEO illegally initiated a review of my sister’s investigation by Washington DC FHEO staff before we obtained more damaging evidence showing the witnesses all lacked credibility. Yet we sent about 1000 pages of additional evidence including photographs and audio recordings to the FHEO Office of Enforcement in Washington DC HUD Headquarters. None of this was ever looked at, listened to, nor referenced. FHEO’s Office of Enforcement merely parroted the original findings without considering any of our evidence.

    Consequently we filed a joint civil rights complaint (under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act) with the U.S. Department of Justice against HUD’s FHEO. HUD’s FHEO has defied the U.S. Department of Justice by refusing to investigate our civil rights complaint against them.

    How can anyone take HUD Fair Housing seriously when they can be so incompetent, intentionally discriminate against victims, and refuse to investigate complaints prescribed by law?

    • Im strogoling with foreclosure myself. Im a 62 years old dissable woman, who has tried to get in one of those low income apartment. While any private apartment have foreclosur forgivemess they told me because Im facing forclosure they can not rent me and apartment. If my income after my dessabily were sufficient I wouldnot facing foreclosure. So what can i do live under a bridge? Im reading all this post and none of them are giving me hope. According to these people nobady have a sucess story with this agency. That is a shame…..

  5. I, Erica Tillman would appreciate if someone could get in touch with me ASAP> I don’t know who I need to speak with about my being terminated from the program \for nothing\, but I just need \anyone to hear me out, and I only have 4 days!!! Thanking you in advance.

  6. I tried to buy a foreclosure from Bank of America back in April of 2011, by offering the full asking price of $79,000. I was told however that there was another offer pending, which had been accepted by the bank, but that I could maintain my offer as a backup. Two months later, when I found that the property was still being advertised on Movoto, and Zillow, etc., I had my broker resubmit my offer, since we were then told that the other deal had fallen through. We got no response for several weeks, during which time neither the bank nor the listing agent would return phone calls, or answer e-mail. Finally we were told that the property was off the market. Nonetheless, the property continued to be advertised on several websites, although a few others did indicate that is was in fact no longer for sale. Then a few weeks ago, around September 8 or so, several of the websites that were continuing to advertise the property indicated that the price had been dropped to $68,900. Naturally, I had my broker submit a full cash offer for a third time. Now we are told that we “didnt get it”, even though I have been offering the full price for almost six months.

    Oh yeah, I have cash because I have a serious disability, and I recieved a large settlement after years of litigation. Basically, (among other things), I broke a bone in my wrist which my doctor said isnt going to heal, so I have limited use of that hand, even after they put two other bones back together with plates and screws. What makes this even worse, is that despite myself, I was able to finish an engineering degree and a certficate of architecture, and was hoping that I could get this fixer upper, which my brother was going to help me remodel, so that I can get my contractors liceense, since all I need a couple of months more experience, to qualify to take the tests – and so I can also get the experience (hours) that I need, even if I just “supervise” the work.

    Apparently, the bank prefers to deal with other, local (possibly white) contractors, and just simply refuses to negotiate with a potential owner/builder with a disability, who would like to have relatives help with the work, so that he (I) can become licensed and eventually return to work.

    So after, over five months of offering the full cash price, they cut the price and sell to someone else, who they apparently “prefer” to work with.

    It’s more complicated of course, because there are very few houses that I can afford, which are in good neighborhoods, which would help me get the kind of work done with my families help – so that I can start a business and go back to work, without having to do heavy labor.

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