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The Future of Fair Housing - Report of the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity

Forty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity was convened to travel across the country to collect information and hear testimony about the nature and extent of illegal housing discrimination, its connection with government policy and practice, and its effect on our communities. The Commission held hearings in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta.

On December 9, 2008, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the Commission reported on its findings.

  The Need for a Strong Fair Housing Initiatives Program
    and a Coordinated Fair Housing Assistance Program

The Fair Housing Initiatives Program

Enactment of the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) legislation in 1987 served as recognition of the vital role qualified private fair housing centers play in educating the public about fair housing and conducting enforcement activities. Private fair housing enforcement is a critical element of a strong national fair housing enforcement presence.

During the past five years, private fair housing organizations have processed 65 percent of the fair housing complaints in the United States, while Fair Housing Assistance Program agencies (state and local fair housing enforcement agencies with laws substantially equivalent to the federal Fair Housing Act) have processed 25 percent and HUD 10 percent of the cases.[155] Private fair housing groups are on the front line because they are community-based; they often perform a valuable screening and development process before a complaint is filed with an enforcement agency. Private fair housing groups also conduct testing, the single most valuable way of collecting evidence about whether discrimination has or has not occurred. Private groups conduct testing in connection with individual cases, but they also conduct market testing to examine real estate practices or identify whether or not discrimination may be occurring when its victims are unaware that discrimination may have occurred. Market testing provides information about the nature and extent of discrimination in a community. Private fair housing groups have also been at the forefront in bringing novel, systemic, and significant cases in the area of racial and ethnic discrimination in real estate sales, homeowners insurance and mortgage lending discrimination, as well as in sexual harassment and accessibility cases. Private fair housing organizations also have developed broad relationships within their communities, bringing together community based organizations, the housing industry, scholars, and civil leaders to address fair housing issues as they impact local communities.[156]

FHIP is the sole federal program designed to fund private fair housing groups to conduct enforcement, education, and outreach. It has several components: (1) the Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI), which funds enforcement activities for organizations that deal with all protected groups and all types of unlawful housing discrimination to engage in enforcement activity; (2) the Education and Outreach Initiative (EOI), which funds fair housing education; (3) the Fair Housing Organizations Initiative (FHOI), which has funded the establishment of new fair housing organizations; and (4) the EOI National Initiative, which has funded national media campaigns to educate the public and industry about fair housing rights and responsibilities. Other permitted categories are funding for regional and local programs and community-based programs that are often not mentioned in funding notices published for the FHIP program. These categories are established by statute.[157] Among the activities authorized by statute but not funded in recent years are the development of new prototypes to respond to new or sophisticated types of discrimination, other special projects,[158] and funding to build the capacity of organizations that are located in underserved areas or which include large populations of people in protected classes. When adequate funding is available, these types of activities should and funded.

Current appropriation levels are grossly inadequate to fund existing private fair housing groups to perform enforcement activities. A full service private fair housing group that successfully competes in FHIP can be awarded no more than $275,000 per year, whether it is located in New York City or Savannah, Georgia. Although about 140 agencies have received enforcement grants over the past ten years, current funding levels permit many fewer groups to be funded every year to conduct enforcement activities. Only 28 groups in the country received consistent funding over the five-year period from FY 2003-2007 and 26 private fair housing groups, including some of the oldest and most respected groups, have closed or are at risk.[159] Funding streams are erratic and unreliable; little financial support exists for fair housing work;[160] and organizations located near each other (but not serving the same population) may not be funded simply because of a decision about geographic dispersion.[161] Budgets are so tight that even one year of lost funding can be enough for an organization to close its doors or to cut back its activities to virtually nothing. Much of the country is not served by private fair housing groups; for example, there is only one such group in all of HUD’s Denver region, which includes the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.[162]

HUD’s budget requests and Congressional appropriations have simply been too little to fund the eligible private fair housing groups to conduct enforcement activities. FHIP funding levels are virtually flat lined; they have not significantly increased in the past 15 years.

Congressional Appropriations Provided for FHIP Since 1994
Fiscal Year FHIP Funding
1994 $ 21 million
1995 $ 26 million
1996 $ 17 million
1997 $ 15 million
1998 $ 15 million
1999 $ 15.0 million *
2000 $ 17.4 million *
2001 $ 14.2 million *
2002 $ 18.2 million *
2003 $ 17.6 million *
2004 $ 17.7 million *
2005 $ 18.0 million *
2006 $ 18.1 million *
2007 $ 18.1 million *
2008 $ 21.8 million *
2009 – proposed by Administration $ 19 million *

*actual funding level available for general FHIP activities, excluding set-asides

HUD’s onerous competitive funding process for the FHIP program is in stark contrast to the Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP), where eligible agencies of state and local government routinely receive reliable and predictable funding streams as long as they meet certain performance standards.

The FHIP funding process is cumbersome and time consuming. A small office must devote hours of precious time to preparing a major grant proposal, often writing about activities that may be well-suited for a HUD housing program but that bear no resemblance to the tasks and responsibilities of a small non-profit fair housing group.[163] Priorities and requirements for the NOFA change every year; occasionally new categories are created, such as a category to fund a fair housing response to Hurricane Katrina, established at the virtually useless funding level of $50,000. In addition, differences in the panels that review proposals result in anomalous results with one group receiving and another denied funding for what is essentially the same proposal.

FHIP program management has been frequently criticized by independent audits for mismanagement ranging from interference by the office of the Secretary to the program’s inability to document its accomplishments, its way of handling the competition for funding a national media campaign, or its provision of funding for an illegal purpose.[164]

Next Section: Increase Funding for the FHIP program


Footnotes

[155] Testimony of Cathy Cloud (Boston), at 1.

[156] Testimony of David Harris (Boston).

[157] 42 U.S.C. § 3616a.

[158] 42 U.S.C. § 3616a (b)(2)(C ).

[159] Testimony of Cathy Cloud (Boston), at 4, 7.

[160] Testimony of Erin Kemple (Boston), at 6.

[161] Testimony of Foster Corbin (Atlanta), at 2. Mr. Corbin’s prediction that only one group in Georgia, Metro Fair Housing in Atlanta or Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing in Savannah would be funded was correct—Metro was funded; Savannah was not.

[162] Testimony of Amy Nelson (Los Angeles), at 2.

[163] Testimony of Diane Houk and Fred Freiberg (Atlanta), at 9-11.

[164] HUD OIG Memorandum AO-174-0801 (July 6, 2000), Audit Memorandum 2001-AO-0802 (February 13, 2001), HUD OIG Audit memorandum 2008-NY-0002 (August 2008).

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  The Future of Fair Housing
Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, NFHA has partnered with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund to create a national, bipartian fair housing commission to investigate the alarming state of U.S. housing in the wake of the subprime housing debacle.
On December 9, 2008, the commission released its findings and recommendations in this comprehensive report.
Appendices
Appendix C: Commissioner Correspondence on Foreclosure Relief Implementation
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