As we come to the end of this year’s Fair Housing Month, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is reenergized and even more committed to creating equality in housing by enforcing the Fair Housing Act.
We do this by investigating each housing discrimination complaint that is filed with HUD by members of the public and fair housing groups around the country. We also initiate investigations in the name of HUD’s Secretary when necessary. When a person or family is denied housing because of who they are, what they look like, or where they come from, it limits housing opportunities and the promise of a richer life and future. It’s also illegal.
Enforcing the Fair Housing Act means removing those often-invisible barriers that keep people from renting or buying a home – barriers such as landlords lying about the availability of units when they see an applicant in a wheelchair; or ignoring a family’s steady income and good credit because they are African-American or Hispanic.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Still, nearly a half century later, housing discrimination still exists. Last year alone, HUD and our partners fielded more than 8,300 complaints alleging discrimination based on one or more of these seven bases.
Often, those who file fair housing complaints and those who allegedly did the discriminating come to an agreement and settle out of court. These agreements often include monetary relief for victims of discrimination. But more importantly, they help to make housing providers and municipalities aware of their obligations under the Fair Housing Act and the Act’s prohibitions against discrimination.
Just a few months ago, for example, the City of Phoenix signed a Voluntary Compliance Agreement after the Southwest Fair Housing Council and the Arizona Fair Housing Center alleged that the city’s Housing Choice Voucher Program did not make its online pre-application process fully accessible to those with disabilities or to people with limited English proficiency. Under the agreement, these barriers were removed.
Sometimes just one individual, family or landlord is involved. In one case, a Minnesota landlord was ordered to pay $27,000 to a woman with disabilities he had denied housing to, as well as a $16,000 civil penalty. Between larger, more systemic cases and individual cases, fair housing cases that HUD settled in 2016 resulted in more than $25 million in monetary relief.
Filing a complaint is free and easy, and HUD will investigate it free of charge as part of its efforts to enforce the Fair Housing Act. If you or a member of your family or community believes their rights have been violated, you can call the fair housing toll-free number at (800) 669-9777 to file a complaint, or file a complaint online.
No one has the right to limit your housing choices, and if they do HUD will be there to enforce the law so that everyone has an equal shot at obtaining the home of their choosing.
Timothy Smyth is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Programs in HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.