April 27, 2016

Your Right to Fair Housing: What Does Your Congregation Need to Know?

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Photo: Where you live is your choice. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Visit hud.gov/fairhousing or call the HUD hotline at 1-800-669-9777. Fair Housing is your right. Use it!

Every April, HUD celebrates “Fair Housing Month” to mark the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Signed into law in April 1968, the Fair Housing Act protects homebuyers and renters from discrimination in buying or renting a home and obtaining a mortgage. The law also enables those who feel their rights have been violated to file a complaint with HUD. As faith and community organizations seek to serve their constituents and work for social justice in their communities, the protections of the Fair Housing Act represent key tools to help individuals and families find a home without fear of discrimination along the way.

This blog provides information to help faith and community leaders understand the protections of the Fair Housing Act against discrimination, including the bases of protection; illegal practices in housing and lending (what is prohibited); what to do if you believe someone’s rights have been violated; and where to turn for questions and further resources.

Protected Categories

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on the following. These are called “protected categories.”

  • Race or color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women; and people securing custody of children under 18)
  • Disability

What Actions are Prohibited?

Protections of the Fair Housing Act apply to nearly all housing in the United States, including the sale or rental of homes, apartments, condominiums or cooperatives, and seeking a mortgage for the purchase of a home.

Finding a Home

The Fair Housing Act prohibits the following actions based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin:

  • Refusing to rent or sell housing
  • Refusing to negotiate for housing
  • Making housing unavailable
  • Setting different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for sale, inspection or rental
  • For profit, persuade or try to persuade homeowners to sell or rent dwellings by suggesting that people of a particular race, etc., have moved, or are about to move into the neighborhood (“blockbusting”)
  • Making a discriminatory statement
  • Otherwise denying a dwelling.

Obtaining a Mortgage

The Fair Housing Act also prohibits discrimination in mortgage lending. No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability:

  • Refusing to make a mortgage loan
  • Refusing to provide information regarding loans
  • Imposing different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees
  • Discriminating in appraising property
  • Refusing to purchase a loan or
  • Setting different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan.

Fair Housing Protections for the Disabled

The Fair Housing Act gives the following additional protections to those with disabilities:

The right to make “reasonable modifications” to your home or common areas (at your expense) in order to use the housing with a disability (such as a grab-bar in the shower or an exception to a no-pets policy for a guide dog).

In addition, in buildings with elevators, all units in buildings built after March 1991 must be accessible to the disabled. Otherwise, ground-level units must be accessible. For more information on these protections, see this page.

If You Think A Member of Your Congregation’s Rights Have Been Violated

If a member of your congregation or community believes that their rights have been violated, there are several options. You can file a complaint online, contact your local HUD office, call the fair housing toll-free number at (800) 669-9777, or find out how to file a fair-housing complaint for HUD-assisting housing programs such the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

When a complaint is filed, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity takes the information, investigates\, and informs the alleged violator of the complaint. Through its investigation, HUD then determines if it has merit, and can take several actions to redress the complaint including conciliation or legal action on behalf of the complainant (with their consent).

Individuals who believe their rights have been violated have one year to file a fair-housing complaint from the time it occurred. The Fair Housing Act prohibits anyone from threatening, coercing, intimidating or interfering with you for making a fair-housing complaint.

Information about the complaint process can be found here.

More Information and Resources for Congregations and Community Organizations

If your congregation or community organization would like more information on these protections, resources, and other options, including technical assistance, HUD’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (HUD CFBNP) stands ready to help connect you to HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).

HUD CFBNP serves as a resource center for secular and faith-based non-profit organizations seeking to partner with HUD to address the housing and community development needs of the neighborhoods in which they operate. The Center builds partnerships and serves as a liaison between the grassroots and federal government, ensuring that groups have the latest information about HUD opportunities and programs as well as other federal resources available to their communities.

For information on fair housing this month or anytime, you can contact HUD CFBNP at 202-708-2404 or partnerships@hud.gov. HUD CFBNP staff can also connect you to other HUD experts according to your question.

You can also obtain outreach resources about fair housing, such as printable, multilingual posters and brochures.

Upholding principles of fair housing and equal opportunity is a critical aspect of HUD’s mission and the promise of our nation, and faith and community organizations represent essential partners in helping everyone become aware of their rights. Working together with HUD and HUD CFBNP, your faith and community organization can help all Americans take advantage of their fair-housing rights.

Paula Lincoln is the Director, HUD Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership.

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