Is The Fair Housing Act Failing?

Denied. It’s a word that some people hear more than others. Specifically, when it comes to housing opportunities. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was supposed to equalize the housing market for a variety of diverse populations, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability (Fair Housing Act).

Fifty years ago this month, the Fair Housing Act came into existence. So it’s only fair to ask, is it working? Is there less housing discrimination that when the Fair Housing Act was passed five decades ago?

As with most socio-political questions, the answer is not a simple yes or no. According to a 2012 report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), while more obvious forms of housing discrimination (such as refusal to show a unit to a person of a racial minority) have declined, more subtle forms of discrimination persist.

The study specifically identified that African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians were told about and shown fewer units than Whites. This is a difficult practice to catch. However, HUD and various fair housing groups have used secret shoppers and complaint hotlines, among other methods, to obtain evidence of housing discrimination of this kind with some success.

A study by Reveal that came out this month identified that this trend is still occurring heavily when it comes to lending and homeownership data, with African Americans being denied home mortgages at a much steeper rate than White borrowers.

While banking institutions insist this disparity is due to neutral factors such as credit scores, fair housing researchers have shown the existing lending model relies heavily on the traditional credit score which has disparate and/or disproportional impact on racial minorities.

As the study by Reveal shows, traditional credit scores don’t take certain kinds of financial history, such as paying rent and utilities, into account. Therefore, someone could pay rent and utilities on time for 20 years and not have a sufficient credit score to receive a mortgage from a financial institution. The system is designed where one must first have assets in order to acquire the credit to get assets, a prime example of privilege.

These reports primarily focused on obtaining housing. What about discrimination when it comes to evictions from persons already housed? Much less research has been done on this aspect of fair housing. An article produced by Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review discussed how previous studies have only gone so far as to prove correlations between higher rates of evictions and some fair housing protected classes.

Households with a higher percentage of children in the Milwaukie neighborhood being studied exhibited a higher eviction rate than households with fewer children. This could indicate fair housing violations occurring based on familial status and dynamics. However, more research is needed to determine the validity of this claim by examining the “eviction warranting behaviors” of landlords.

For example, are households with children are more likely to break aspects of a lease such as paying the rent on time? These questions require further research to truly understand if there is an underlying fair housing concern particularly in the instance of no-cause evictions which are much more difficult to evaluate.

Take Away

One positive of the passage of the Fair Housing Act is that it created tools by which persons could advocate for themselves or others. It opened a form of recourse that those experiencing housing discrimination could take against housing providers that do not follow Fair Housing Law. Amidst all the work to be done to improve the impacts of the Fair Housing Act, there are some simple ways the general public can increase the prevalence of fair housing practices.

Know the federal Fair Housing Act and how it works, specifically in your state. Some states have additional protected classes above and beyond those listed in the Federal Fair Housing Law. You can start learning at the National Fair Housing Alliance

Use this knowledge to advocate for the fair housing rights of yourself and others, especially if you work with vulnerable populations who are likely to experience housing discrimination. For example, fair housing law can demonstrate how to correctly use reasonable accommodations to achieve successful housing placement and retention for persons with disabling conditions who would otherwise be unable to access and enjoy housing.

Hold those who make decisions about housing accountable by reporting known housing discrimination for investigation at HUD Housing Discrimination Complaint Form

HUD Awarded $7.5 Million to Assist Disabled & Elderly Americans Live Independently

Wheelchair in Front of Adapted Home 1In late September, HUD’s Secretary Julián Castro made the announcement that nearly $8 million in grant funding will be used to assist thousands of people with disabilities and senior citizens receive healthcare, meals, and other daily living activities and services in the comforts of their own homes, arranged by service coordinators.  Living independently as a disabled person or senior citizen, if possible, is important to one’s psyche, sense of well-being, and being afforded the opportunity to be fully comfortable in your own living quarters.  Becoming aware of the $7.5 million grants HUD awarded through its Multifamily Housing Service Coordinator Program (MHSC), I knew that I had to share this positive move towards increasing independence opportunities with the SWH readers.

Secretary Castro made the following statement about how the use of service coordinators will be vital to these particular populations:

Service coordinators connect senior citizens and those living with disabilities with the services they need to live independently … These grants will go a long way toward ensuring these vulnerable populations are well served and allowed to age in place.

The 39 grants awarded will be bestowed upon 39 owners of private housing developments that receive rental subsidies from the Department to house those who are low-income in 21 states.  The grant awardees are subject to hire or contract service coordinators who will be responsible for providing social services and assistance to residents who are disabled and elderly.  The grant money will cover costs related to salary, benefits, quality assurance, training, office space, equipment, and other related administrative expenses needed to retain and support these coordinators working for the grant awardees to provide these resources to residents.

Why is this grant award announcement so important?  Having the ability to stay in one’s home while conquering severe medical conditions has been proven to be beneficial to one’s overall health and improvement.  There is truly no place like home, and when you have chronic illnesses or disabilities, being in familiar surroundings eliminates the issue of having to recover in cold, foreign, unfriendly, sterile environments such as nursing homes and hospitals.  Being comfortable, location wise, is a priority for those with disabilities and our seniors, just as pain management and effective medical treatments are.  Being a helping professional, I have seen clients’ health and will to fight deteriorate when they were removed from their homes, and I have witnessed the complete opposite – clients’ health stabilized or deteriorated at a slower rate because they had the opportunity to remain at home.  Of course, remaining at home may not be the opportune choice in certain circumstances, but if it is favorable, it should be heavily considered as a possible option versus being institutionalized or hospitalized.

Another key point to note is that it is more cost-effective and cost-efficient for someone to remain in their home instead of being placed in an institutional setting; the latter would cost thousands of dollars each year just to house one resident.  The need for more federally-supported programs to assist in allowing individuals to live independently will undeniably reduce the financial strain on our healthcare system when it comes to this aspect.

Seeing that the well-being and quality of life of disabled and elderly Americans is on the consciousness of federal entities like HUD is imperative to ensure that everyone has a fair chance of living independently to the best of their abilities in our communities.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of The Little House Company.)

HUD Charges University with Housing Discrimination of College Student with Support Dog

A new school year means that disabled college students are adjusting to their new environments, and are making accommodation requests to their school’s disability services department that will allow a smoother transition.  Accommodations can range from needing note-taking assistance, placement in a quieter environment to take tests, and/or being able to use service/support animals on campus.  Such accommodations are protected under several federal mandates, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other pieces of legislation that outlaws discriminatory practices based on disability status(es).

Support Dog 1In mid-August, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a statement that it had charged Kent State University, one of the largest universities in Ohio, with discrimination.  The University, along with four of its employees, allegedly refused the accommodations request a disabled student made to allow her emotional support animal to live with her in the university-owned and operated housing unit she resided in.

Details of the Alleged Discriminatory Practice Conducted:  

According to HUD, the student filed a complaint stating the details of the claimed misgivings she and her husband experienced from the university regarding this matter.  The student and her spouse resided in housing designated for families and upperclassmen attending the University.  The student was receiving services from an on-campus helping professional, and the professional stated in documentation that the appropriate means for the student to cope with the disabilities she faced was by having an emotional support animal.

The student, acting on the helping professional’s recommendation about her care, sought and retained the services of an emotional support animal, and filed a reasonable accommodation request to the university about housing the animal.  The housing unit the student resided in had a “no pets” rule, and the student was hoping that the university would waive this policy, given that her support animal would be providing her assistance surrounding her disabilities.

The student claimed that the university did not respect her support animal housing accommodation request; though they did honor the requests she made regarding the academic accommodations she needed.  Her inability to obtain the housing waiver for her support animal caused her and her spouse to move and search for housing off-campus.  When the alternative housing arrangements were made, the student and her spouse contacted Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA), Inc. about this incident.

What the Fair Housing Act States about Housing Accommodations:  

In this case, refusing to accommodate a student with an emotional support animal violates the Fair Housing Act.  The Fair Housing Act (FHA), passed in 1968, prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability status, and family status.  In regards to disability, the Fair Housing Act states the following about reasonable accommodations and housing providers’ responsibilities:

Your landlord may not:

• Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)

• Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.

Example: A building with a no pets policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.

(Excerpted from Fair Housing – It’s Your Rights.)

In this case, the Fair Housing Act prohibits the refusal the student claimed to have experienced – housing providers like Kent State University cannot refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to waivers regarding “no pets” policies, especially when the accommodation is needed for the disabled person to live an independent life.  Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, made the following statement about housing providers honoring a service/support animal accommodation requests:

Many people with disabilities rely on therapy animals to enhance their quality of life. .. The Fair Housing Act protects their right to a service animal and HUD is committed to taking action whenever the nation’s fair housing laws are violated.

Why Other Colleges & Universities Should Keep a Close Eye on this Case:  

Until a ruling is handed down in this case (if it is seen in court), Kent State University and its employees are innocent of any wrongdoing and discriminatory practices.  However, this case should be on the radar of the colleges and universities in this country.  As I say time and time again, being ignorant of the law IS NOT an excuse to hindering someone’s rights.  As a former disabled college student, I remember several students of various disabilities with their service and support animals in the classrooms, cafeterias, and dormitories.  These animals serve a purpose – they are NOT toys or pets; students deserve, and have the rights, to utilize the incredibly freedoms these animals bestow upon those who need them.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Working Service Dog.)

Recognizing April 2014 as Fair Housing Month

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Woman in Wheelchair In the Kitchen 1

The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declares April as Fair Housing Month.  Fair Housing Month is HUD’s way of commemorating the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which was enacted shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, and family status.  More recent protections were added to prevent housing discrimination based on one’s source of income.

In addition to the legal protection of the aforementioned identifiers, twenty states, the District of Columbia, and more than 150 cities, have expanded the Fair Housing Act to forbid discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families.  HUD established regulations to ensure that the Department’s core housing programs are available to all eligible recipients, regardless of their sexual orientation, in 2012.

The following quote from HUD’s Acting FHEO Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene explains why celebrating Fair Housing Month is so important:

Fair Housing Month is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on just how far we’ve come to make our housing more equitable and how far we still have to go to end housing discrimination.  Fair housing is about giving people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and whenever this opportunity is denied, not only do families lose, our entire nation loses.

When it comes to disability, HUD developed the Disability Rights in Private and Public Housing Initiative.  Below are the rights people with disabilities have under the Federal laws that focus on housing:

Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability.

Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.  A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

Requires that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.

(Excerpted from HUD’s Disability Rights in Housing webpage.)

This year’s theme is “Fair Housing Is Your Right:  Use It!”  HUD aims to raise awareness about your housing rights, and discuss the overt and covert forms of housing discrimination that still persists today.  I have read and written stories about housing discrimination, and am aware that key legislation like the Fair Housing Act are steps toward the right direction in creating equality and justice; however, more has to be done to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their disability status and other identifiers, are afforded the same opportunities to obtain housing that fits their needs.

During Fair Housing Month, how do you plan to ramp your voice about the housing discriminatory practices that exist to prevent people with disabilities, LGBT members, minorities, and other groups from accessing housing?  If you have experienced such discrimination in your quest in obtaining housing, are you willing to share your story?  What actions can be taken within your community to bridge the gaps in creating available housing options for those with disabilities, minorities, LGBT members, and other groups?  Share your stories, thoughts, and ideas with me to commemorate this observance.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of the New York Times.)

Reverse Discrimination When Housing Those with Disabilities

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Is it possible for reverse discrimination to occur when housing those with disabilities?  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) believes so as it proclaimed that the Apache ASL apartments in Tempe, Arizona needs to rent 75 percent of its apartment units to those without disabilities.  The apartment complex have been accused of discriminating against individuals who are not deaf, or have other forms of disabilities.  This charge has spearheaded outrage, especially since HUD funded $2.6 million to establish the project that would allow those with hearing impairments to acquire appropriate housing for their needs.

Example of a Videophone GadgetApache ASL apartments are a handful of housing facilities available in the United States that are specifically designed for those with hearing impairments.  Each apartment unit has the following accommodations:  wheelchair accessibility, blinking light sensors that activate when the doorbell rings and the garbage disposal is in use, and a videophone system that allows residents to connect and communicate with their friends and others.  From the wide range of accommodations made available to residents with hearing impairments and other forms of disabilities, Apache ASL apartments seem to be in heavy compliance with HUD’s Disability Rights in Private and Public Housing.  The following are the rights people with disabilities have under the Federal laws that focus on housing:

Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability.

Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.  A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

Requires that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.

(Excerpt from HUD’s Disability Rights on Housing webpage.)

It is needless to say that occupants of this apartment complex have taken ardent offense to the notion that too many people with disabilities live in the residential facility.  Some residents have voiced that apartment complexes such as Apache ASL apartments have made it possible for them to acquire housing that was created for those with disabilities.  Such accommodating housing units has furthered their abilities to be independent, and to live where they desire.

Is it possible for this apartment complex to be involved in reverse discrimination against those without disabilities?  Are such housing facilities designed for those with disabilities acts of reverse ableism?  Is HUD regressing in its efforts to ensure that people with disabilities are able to access appropriate housing without housing providers worrying about meeting a certain “quota” of resident with disabilities and those without?  What will this mean for future housing projects like Apache ASL apartments?  HUD’s decision to demand that this apartment complex meet certain requirements seems to open a new Pandora Box when it comes to the availability of housing options for those with disabilities.

I am interested in learning your reactions to HUD’s complaint, and the implications it could have on those who seek to have the same standard of living as their able-bodied counterparts that meet their specific needs.  Email me at Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com with your thoughts and concerns regarding this story and HUD’s response.  

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of The Guardian.)

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