A new report finds that while fair housing complaints continue to increase with the worsening housing market and rise of internet advertising, the number of significant fair housing actions handled by HUD and the Department of Justice (DOJ) actually declined over the last decade.
The report from the National Fair Housing Alliance tracks the claims, complaints and case filings recorded by private National Fair Housing Alliance organizations, state and local government agencies that receive HUD Fair Housing Assistance Program funding, HUD itself, and DOJ. Though the terminology varies across the different agencies, a recorded “complaint” or “claim” means that at a minimum an investigation was initiated and legal or other action may have been taken by the agency or the injured party.
The report found that in 2008 National Fair Housing Alliance members filed 20,173 complaints, while HUD filed just 2,123 claims and complaints. DOJ, which can take cases referred by HUD or from its own investigations filed just 33 cases. Over the period 1999 to 2008, HUD’s share of significant actions fell from 13% to 7%. The number of DOJ cases shows a steady decline, falling from near 50 cases at the beginning of the decade to near 30 in recent years. State and local government agencies increased their activity, however, from filing 3,676 claims and complaints in 1999 to 8,429 in 2008, an increase from 21% to 27% of the complaints filed in each year.
The share handled by National Fair Housing Alliance members remained fairly constant at 66% of complaints filed. Since some complaints are ultimately referred by private agencies to both federal and local agencies, the grand total of the complaints by the individual agencies may be smaller and the share handled by NFHA members may be larger than reported.
The report, which analyzes the filing data across a variety of dimensions including by protected class (e.g. race or gender), type of transaction, and outcome, provides a number of policy recommendations, most prominently the creation of an independent fair housing enforcement agency. The report also takes a look at the particular challenges of enforcing fair housing law in the current market. These challenges include recent rulings related to the internet that are undermining fair housing laws written for print advertising, issues arising out of the Gulf Coast recovery after the 2005 hurricanes, and the impact foreclosure crisis and the federal policies that have been implemented in response.
The report is done each year as part of Fair Housing Month, which is celebrated throughout April.
Fair Housing Enforcement: Time for Change is available at www.nationalfairhousing.org/Portals/33/2009%20Trends/2009%20Fair%20Housing%20Trends%20Report.pdf.