November 18, 2014

A Day in the Life: Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Boston Regional Office

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Photo: Lee Gonzalez

Welcome to another edition of our blog series, A Day in the Life, which will introduce you to HUD employees and highlight the important work they do.

Today we meet Lee González, Civil Rights Analyst, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), Boston Regional Office.

What is the overarching task of your position?

I am part of the team that helps make sure people’s fair housing rights are respected. It’s long and tedious work, but in the end, when you help someone successfully win a case, it is very satisfying.

I process housing discrimination complaints under the U.S. Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  As part of the complaint process I interview complainants and witnesses to obtain relevant evidence.  I also counsel and consult with victims of housing discrimination to determine the jurisdictional status of complaints and then translate a victim’s complaint into an acceptable form for processing and investigation.  I coordinate case management with HUD enforcement procedures including compliance with HUD and federal regulations.

In addition to the casework, I work with officials of HUD-funded Fair Housing Assistance Programs in the implementation of applicable statutes, rules and regulations.  We also assist local officials, organizations, and community groups in fulfilling their responsibilities under federal, state and local laws relating to HUD regulations to reverse or eliminate patterns or practices injuring those protected under the civil rights laws.

I work with all HUD divisions and program offices beyond Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to help achieve improvements for protected classes.

This includes performing technical assistance and program support in matters relating to equal opportunity in housing, federally assisted facilities, employment, economic opportunity, civil rights, and other matters relating to the office’s mission.

When we need Spanish language interpretation services for HUD clients I help translate, and serve as a contact for persons wishing to file fair housing complaints. Being responsible for language interpretation assistance during the fair housing complaint referral process includes receiving complaints, analysis, jurisdiction determination, and preparation of appropriate notices to parties involved.   I also help explain the complaint process and ensure that complaints are filed correctly.

What is your typical day like?

My day starts early every day, at 4:00 a.m. I get ready and am always eager to start my office work.  Once I am in the office, I begin to prioritize my work. For example, I answer emails, check voice mail messages, the usual.  Once I have accomplished those daily tasks, I begin processing cases. This usually includes about five intake cases a day or more.  Because I consider myself a workaholic, I forget that I need to go home. I appreciate my co-workers and friends who are always checking up on me and reminding me that I need to go home.

How long have you been in your current role?

I have been with HUD for 24 years.  I have served in my current role for the past 14 years.

What is the most exciting part of your job?

The most exciting part of my job is when I am able to write a complaint, file it and at the end of the investigation, the case is settled and complainants are somehow compensated.

This really involves talking with complainants and clarifying the parts of the fair housing laws that they need to understand to properly describe what may be a very traumatic experience.

Often people misunderstand or aren’t aware of the protections afforded them under the fair housing regulations.

Another part of the job that I find exciting is the ability to assist other FHEO branches in examining trends in a particular area of protection. Sometimes the information that we get from a complainant will lead to a fair housing review and result in broader HUD enforcement and monitoring. But, the real exhilaration comes when complaints lead to a settlement or sanction resulting in a real change of policy or making an individual whole.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Challenges often involve deciphering complaints that are not so clear and have multiple violations in them or where it is clear a violation has not occurred.  It gives me a sense of relief and immense satisfaction that I was able to successfully listen carefully to a caller or read a complaint and see so much more than the complainant has indicated, such as multiple areas of violations.

It is always a challenge to convince a person who is calling that while their situation is difficult and even perhaps, unfair, it is not a violation of the law. HUD funded agencies sometime have to make tough decisions and there are people who simply do not understand the complexities of those decisions.

In my job, I talk to many different people with different backgrounds such as victims of domestic violence, people who have lost their jobs and sometimes people with mental illness. When housing discrimination becomes part of the formula these people become further victimized and so giving them the right answer, sometimes one they don’t want to hear, is a huge challenge.

Where did you work prior to your position at HUD?

I used to work as a temporary employee for the National Park Services as a Secretary for three months before coming to work for HUD.

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back next month for a new edition of A Day in the Life!

Rhonda Siciliano is a Regional Public Affairs Officer in HUD’s Boston regional office.

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