July 13, 2012

The Battle Against Housing Discrimination – A Team Effort

Written by:

Greg Crespo, Presidential Management Fellow in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, there are an estimated four million instances of housing discrimination occurring annually in the U.S.; neither the non-profit sector, nor federal and state governments, can tackle fair housing investigation, enforcement, outreach, and education on their own—cooperation and partnerships are essential. Thanks to an innovative federal fellowship program, I’ve had the privilege to contribute to both sides of one of those partnerships.

Since 1977 the Presidential Management Fellowship has been recruiting students nationally from a wide variety of graduate school programs to serve as federal employees.  I have been a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for a year and a half, and one of the unique parts of this federal program is that it allows PMFs to take temporary assignments (“rotations”) outside of their home office in order to broaden their understanding of the federal government and the job they will likely fill at the completion of the fellowship.  Over the past four months I’ve been on “rotation” at the Equal Rights Center (ERC) assisting with civil rights investigations.

Last year HUD awarded more than $40,000,000 in grants to support a network of experienced fair housing enforcement organizations throughout the country and to educate the public and housing industry about fair housing rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act.  The ERC is one of the recipients of those funds and has a long history of working with HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity as a partner in the fight to end housing discrimination.

HUD is charged with the administration and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, including investigating claims of housing and lending discrimination.  And while federal investigators have powerful tools to investigate discrimination claims, the breadth of the ERC’s investigative techniques, including the staffing and ability to conduct widespread civil rights survey testing to measure and uncover discrimination in a community, makes them an excellent ally in a shared mission.

At HUD, studies like the ones produced by the ERC are frequently used to understand patterns of discrimination, and civil rights testing evidence is used to launch investigations and charge discrimination cases.  Similarly, the ERC relies on HUD, both for grant money and for support from local investigators.  It’s a symbiotic relationship where distinct inputs bring the organizations, and society, mutual benefits—they are better and stronger for working together.

While at the ERC, I was able to work as a civil rights testing coordinator to design and implement civil rights tests, train civil rights testers to uncover discrimination, and work on reports documenting the prejudices that still infect our communities.  I return to HUD with a greater appreciation for both the essential contributions non-government organizations make towards fighting discrimination and the importance of government grant programs that support those organizations.  Thank you ERC!

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