Private groups handle more housing complaints but receive less funds than public agencies, says report

Private fair housing groups have handled more than twice the amount of fair housing complaints than all government enforcement agencies combined since 1999, according to a new report issued by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA). The report, released on April 14, shows that the numbers of fair housing complaints around the country are trending upward, and that private agencies are handling the bulk of those complaints. Despite this, the federal government continues to fund local and state governmental agencies at higher levels.

“HUD is only proposing $12 million for enforcement grants for FY2004. This means that only 44 private fair housing groups can be funded under a cap of $275,000 per grant. At a minimum, HUD should use for enforcement at least $18 million of the $20 million it is requesting from Congress. However, if HUD was truly serious about fair housing enforcement, it would seek a substantial increase in FHIP funding in the same way it has secured increased funding for (governmental) FHAP agencies,” said Shanna Smith, President and CEO of NFHA at a news conference.

Private fair housing agencies around the country are closing due to lack of funds. The Open  Housing Center in New York closed its doors in March after decades of fair housing education and enforcement work. Groups in Michigan and Virginia have also closed in recent years, and dozens of private fair housing groups around the country are in danger of closing this year if they do not receive new funding from HUD or other sources.

Report shows race still tops complaint numbers

NFHA’s annual Fair Housing Trends Report collects data on complaints of illegal discrimination nationwide. The 2003 report revealed that the highest number of complaints filed in 2002 were from African Americans and people with disabilities. Race accounted for 30 percent of all  complaints, followed by disability and familial status (27 percent and 15 percent of all complaints, respectively). Complaints based on national origin discrimination comprise 12 percent of complaints. A total of 25,246 complaints were filed nationwide in 2002.

“This number is less than one percent of the estimated incidence of illegal housing discrimination that occurs each year in the United States,” said Smith. In 1980, HUD estimated that two million instances of rental and sales discrimination against African Americans occurred annually. The estimate was based on a national housing discrimination survey.

“If HUD projected the incidence of discrimination faced by African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, families with children and people with disabilities, the number would be far greater than two million,” asserted Smith at a press conference to release NFHA’s report.

Recent research documents the fact that many consumers do not know their rights. A HUD study released in 2002, How Much Do We Know? Public Awareness of the Nation’s Fair Housing Laws, found that one in every five people who believed they experienced housing discrimination did not know what their rights were.

Consumers have a lack of faith in the system; believe complaints won’t accomplish anything

A 2001 George Washington University study of segregation in Washington, DC, found that out of the 10.9 percent of African Americans who reported that they experienced discrimination within the housing market, more than 90 percent did not take legal action, and “one of the key reasons for not doing so was because they thought that nothing would come of it.”

“Successful enforcement builds trust with the people who are victimized by housing discrimination. Private fair housing groups receive more complaints than all government agencies combined because fair housing centers investigate complaints quickly and secure units, damages and affirmative relief in a timely fashion. But the success of the private fair housing movement is in jeopardy,” stated Smith.