A woman and her daughter reported being harassed, stalked, and called the n-word by a neighbor last year in a Chicago area housing development. Investigated by a local housing center, it led to civil case, a settlement, and an in-court apology from the neighbor.
That complaint was among the dozen received through the National Fair Housing Alliance’s website since June.
The documented uptick in hate incidents nationwide since President Trump won the 2016 presidential race, and the fact that a majority of hate crimes occur in and around one’s home, spurred the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) to launch a “Stop Hate” section in February and a button on its website to report incidents (anonymously, if needed), Shanti Abedin, NFHA’s director of inclusive communities, told Rewire.
“Any kind of hate activity that happens in someone’s private residence is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. That’s something a lot of people don’t know is covered as a form of housing discrimination,” she said. “We encourage people to call their local fair housing centers, or to call us or to use the form on our website. Even if you don’t want to put your name or contact information, you can still report incidents.”
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A consortium of more than 220 nonprofit fair housing organizations, state, and local civil rights agencies, the NFHA recently partnered with Communities Against Hate, “a national initiative to document stories and respond to incidents of violence, threats and property damage motivated by hate in the United States,” according to its website.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was landmark legislation ensuring equal access to housing. But housing discrimination continues and the alliance’s annual report on fair housing trends tallied 28,181 complaints of housing discrimination reported in 2016, about 200 more than the previous year, 70 percent of which were addressed by private fair housing organizations. Fifty-five percent involved discrimination on the basis of disability, 19.6 percent involved racial discrimination, and 6 percent involved sex bias.
Local fair housing centers, members of NFHA, engage in education, investigation, and enforcement and are “frontlines for individuals who believe they have been subject to discrimination in the housing market,” Morgan Williams, general counsel at NFHA, told Rewire.
Alliance investigations have led to efforts shining a light on and resolving acts of discrimination. These include a lawsuit filed last December accusing mortgage giant Fannie Mae of racial discrimination in 38 U.S. metro areas. Bank of America was similarly accused of neglecting foreclosures in more than 200 communities of color. Travelers Insurance faced a lawsuit for race, sex, and source of income discrimination against tenants who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program.
“At a time when we’re concerned about numerous threats to communities of color, from both inside and outside our federal government, a fully functioning and effective Fair Housing Act is now more important than ever,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told Rewire in an email. “When people are denied equal opportunity to safe, affordable, healthy housing, they are denied access to good jobs, quality education, safe streets, accessible transit, and a clean and healthy environment, all of which are critical to leading healthy and prosperous lives.”
A Case in Hate
A recent U.S. Justice Department settlement that secured $70,000 to compensate seven victims of discrimination by an Indiana housing authority undermined a 2016 lawsuit brought by a NFHA member that sought much more.
The consent decree pending in court seeks $230,000 from the Anderson Housing Authority for two tenants and the housing center, the Herald Bulletin reported. That’s more than three times the settlement secured by the DOJ last week from the same housing authority.
Moreover, the DOJ lawsuit addresses allegations of discrimination by the housing authority on the basis of disability and sex but not race, which was a key component of the lawsuit brought last year on behalf of two tenants and the local housing center.
“Over a several year period, the Anderson Housing Authority has violated the public trust and used its resources to ignore, threaten, and disempower the very residents who were entrusted in their care,” said Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, in a news release.
DOJ officials did not respond to queries about whether the settlement appropriately compensates aggrieved tenants nor why there was no mention of the racism tenants faced in its lawsuit. This may not be surprising under an administration that has peddled white supremacy and an attorney general who has long been opposed to civil rights.
Ben Carson, Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said in May that housing for those with low incomes should not be too comfortable, the New York Times reported.
Trump and his father have a long history of racial discrimination at their properties. They faced a Justice Department investigation in 1973 for turning away potential Black tenants. The Trumps eventually settled.
Fast forward to this year’s White House budget and it comes as no surprise that Trump proposed cutting HUD’s budget by 13 percent, including axing the Housing Trust Fund that maintains affordable housing for the poorest as well as the successful Community Development Block Grant program that funds initiatives like Meals on Wheels and helps rebuild communities after disaster strikes, as CityLab reported.
With resignations and unfilled positions, HUD is now “eerily underpopulated” and faces “an existential crisis,” according to New York magazine.
This should be of concern because millions depend on HUD, which funds 3,300 public housing authorities and the Section 8 rental-voucher program that serves more than 2 million families. Residents also depend on HUD for subsidized mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration.
Tenants Have Rights
Hate is hard to document and even harder to prosecute as a crime. But complaints can lead to civil cases and this is one way in which housing centers can help vulnerable residents learn about their rights and document incidents in this hostile environment.
“There has been a notable increase in the number of hate or bias-related incidents occurring across the country,” Williams said. “We, together with our partners across the country, are working to educate communities about their rights, and support residents when they are targeted with acts of hate in and around the home.”
As communities across the nation come together to fight hate in all its forms, there are new efforts underway to protect and arm tenants with knowledge and resources.
Renters in 45 cities across the nation have come together for #RenterWeekOfAction, a coordinated effort fighting for renters’ rights, rent control, and community control of land.
Organized by the national campaign Homes For All, the actions range from renters dressed in black staging the “daylight robbery” of a property management company in Long Beach, California, on September 18 to a march on city hall to fight for increased renter protections in Detroit, and demands for full HUD funding and an end to the privatization of public housing at the New York City Housing Authority headquarters on September 21.
Rising rents are the No. 1 reason families face homelessness and eviction, especially since the foreclosure crisis. National data from PolicyLink suggests the biggest cities have the highest number of renters, and if renters could only pay what they can afford, racial inequalities would decrease.