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After 51 Years, Fair Housing Still an Unfinished Journey

CHARLENE CROWEL | 4/14/2019, 11:03 p.m.
Fifty-one years ago, this month, the Fair Housing Act was enacted to ensure that housing discrimination was illegal. Yet, just ...
Charlene Crowell

(NNPA) – Fifty-one years ago, this month, the Fair Housing Act was enacted to ensure that housing discrimination was illegal. Yet, just days before the annual observance of Fair Housing Month began, headline news articles reminded the nation that housing discrimination still exists.

For example, on March 19, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency fined Citibank $25 million for violations related to mortgage lending. At issue was Citibank’s “relationship pricing” program that afforded mortgage applicants either a credit on closing costs or a reduced interest rate. These cost breaks were intended to be offered to customers on the basis of their deposits and investment balances. According to OCC examination at Citibank, these ‘relationships” did not include all eligible customers – particularly people of color. The regulator’s conclusion was that the bank’s practices led to racial disparities.

The settlement calls for all 24,000 consumers affected to receive $24 million in restitution.

Days later on March 28, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development charged Facebook with violating the act by enabling its advertisers to discriminate on its social media platform. According to the lawsuit, Facebook enabled advertisers to exclude people based on their neighborhood – a high tech version of the historical redlining of neighborhoods where people of color lived.

With 210 million Facebook users in the United States and Canada alone, the social media mogul took in $8.246 billion in advertising in just the last financial quarter of 2018.

As April’s annual observance of Fair Housing Month began, the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee used that leadership post to bring attention to the nagging challenges that deny fair housing for all. In her opening statement at the hearing held April 2, Chairwoman Maxine Waters set the tone and focus of the public forum.

“According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, individuals filed 28,843 housing discrimination complaints in 2017,” Waters said. “Under the Trump Administration, fair housing protections are under attack…. According to news reports Secretary Carson proposed taking the words ‘free from discrimination’ out of HUD’s mission statement.

“He also reportedly halted fair housing investigations and sidelined top advisors in HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. These are unprecedented attacks on fair housing that must not go unanswered.”

Several committee members posed similar concerns and offered comments that echoed those of Waters. Additional issues raised during the hearing spoke to a lack of enforcement, data collection, gentrification, racial redlining, restrictive zoning, and disparate impact.

A panel of housing experts provided substantive testimony that responded to many of these issues, while also acknowledging how many fair housing goals have not yet been achieved.

Cashauna Hill, the executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center provided additional information on delays encountered with HUD’s Fair Housing investigations. Although HUD set a standard for these complaints to be investigated within 100 days, many complaints go well beyond the agency’s own guidelines. Cases older than 100 days are categorized as “aged” in HUD parlance.

“In 2017, HUD had 895 cases that became aged during that same year, and it had 941 cases that were already considered aged at the beginning of the fiscal year,” Hill noted. “During that same time period, Fair Housing Assistance Program agencies had 3,994 cases that became aged and 1,393 cases that were already considered aged at the beginning of the fiscal year.