HUD Finds Dubuque Voucher Policies Violate Civil Rights Act

HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) issued a “Letter of Findings of Noncompliance” regarding the voucher residency preference policies of Dubuque, IA. This letter follows a civil rights review conducted by FHEO, as well as by HUD’s offices of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) and Community Planning and Development (CPD). HUD found that Dubuque is not in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because changes the City made to its voucher program’s admissions policy were intended to have and which had the effect of restricting the ability of African Americans to obtain vouchers and relocate to Dubuque.Between 1990 and 2010 the African American population of Dubuque grew from 1% of the population (328 people) to 4% (2,302 people). According to the 2010 Census, African Americans comprised 2% of Dubuque County and 2.9% of the State of Iowa. HUD rules allow residency preference points as long as they are not residency requirements and are used in a nondiscriminatory fashion. For example, Dubuque legally provides 5 points for applicants who are elderly, disabled, require a live-in aide, or have graduated from Dubuque’s foster care program.In 2007, Dubuque’s Housing and Community Development Department (HCDD) implemented a new residency preference point allotment because there was an “influx of people coming in and applying from other areas.” The new preference system awarded points on a cumulative basis, giving Dubuque applicants 30 points, County residents 20 points, and Iowa residents 15 points. In other words, a Dubuque resident could automatically have a 65-point advantage.In the summer of 2009, public perceptions attributed an increase in crime to new African American residents from Chicago. Until that time, HCDD provided five preference points to anyone who had very low income. However, in late 2009 those points were eliminated and the voucher waiting list closed, except to applicants who had one of the other preference points, such as elderly applicants. This change in admission policy effectively allowed applicants from out of state only if they qualified for disabled or elderly preference points. FHEO found an internal memorandum indicating that the intent of the policy change was to close the waiting list to out of town applicants in order to address public perceptions on crime.Also in late 2009, Dubuque implemented a nine-month freeze on issuing new vouchers with the intent to reduce the number of assisted households from 1,076 to 900. This would have the effect of making it more difficult to obtain a voucher for out of town applicants who had gained a place on the waiting list before the five-point very low income preference as eliminated. The City Manager asserted that the reduction to 900 vouchers was necessary because HCDD could not effectively administer a 1,100-voucher program. However, FHEO asserts that HCDD consistently received high Section Eight Management Assessment Program (SEMAP) scores, indicating efficient program operation.HCDD conducted a significant purge of its waiting list in 2010, resulting in the removal of 387 African Americans and just 168 whites. Waiting lists may be adjusted in order to keep them current. However, the impact of Dubuque’s action was greater on out of state residents because they could no longer reapply and successfully regain a position on the waiting list due to the loss of the very low income preference.FHEO found that as a result of Dubuque’s actions, African American participation in the voucher program declined from 31% in 2010 to 21% in 2011 and 23% in 2012.Finally, the Letter of Findings of Noncompliance declares that there is sufficient evidence to question whether the City’s voucher policies and practices are consistent with its certification that it is affirmatively furthering fair housing choice. Dubuque’s Analysis of Impediments (AI) to fair housing choice identifies two key impediments: a lack of affordable housing and an environment unwelcoming to outsiders, especially minorities. Even though the City’s Consolidated Plan and Annual Action Plans state that the voucher program is Dubuque’s primary method of providing affordable housing, the City nonetheless reduced its voucher baseline from 1,076 to 900 vouchers. Plus, it did not discuss actions it would take to mitigate the effect on the fair housing choices for African Americans of reducing available vouchers.The Letter of Findings from June 17, 2013 seeks a Voluntary Compliance Agreement and sets out 15 corrective actions the City must undertake, including:

  • Eliminating local residency preference points.
  • Maximizing voucher lease ups for five years.
  • Propose and implement means by which current and future CDBG expenditures may mitigate the adverse effects of the City’s prior actions.
  • Maintain a monthly accounting of the voucher waiting list, including information on applications received, rejected and accepted, and applicant information such as race, ethnicity, and current or originating address.

Dubuque posted an announcement on its website on June 20 stating that it “acknowledges the negative impact on African Americans that occurred as a consequence of these changes [to the voucher program],” and “deeply regrets these impacts and will pursue corrective actions to address them. City staff will pursue informal resolution through the Voluntary Compliance Agreement process to resolve the issues and achieve full compliance.” However, as of June 28, this announcement is no longer on Dubuque’s website.View the Letter of Findings of Noncompliance at: Read the Dubuque web announcement at: