Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Fair Housing / Fair Lending Conference Remarks
Little Rock, Arkansas, Little Rock Marriot, April 19, 2019

 

As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.

Thank you, Carol. During this Fair Housing Month, I’m delighted to join your annual Fair Housing / Fair Lending Conference to share some of the ways HUD is working across the country, including here in Little Rock, to help Americans access safe, fair, and affordable housing.

This year’s Fair Housing Month commemoration occurs at a time when communities across the country are facing significant housing challenges. Our nation’s lack of an adequate supply of decent and safe affordable housing is limiting the housing options of many low-income families. In fact, more and more municipalities are struggling to meet the housing needs of their constituents while juggling competing priorities. At the same time, persistent discrimination continues to prevent some from accessing the housing of their choice. Last year alone, HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program partner agencies received almost 8,000 complaints alleging some form of discrimination based on one of the Fair Housing Act’s seven protected classes: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Disturbingly, anecdotal evidence suggests that many other instances went unreported.

Each spring, when the nation observes Fair Housing Month, we renew our commitment to the principles of justice and equality, which flow through our civil rights laws. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 is not just text appended to the United States Code. Indeed, it ensures that the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of equal protection under the law are reflected in our housing laws. The ideals of that law, and our continuing work to support it, are really quite simple – fair is fair.

America has experienced tremendous progress since the Fair Housing Act became the law of the land, but when housing options are limited, individuals and families struggle to access the good schools, jobs, and economic opportunities they need to get ahead. HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity – “FHEO” – is working hard to combat unlawful housing discrimination. Through an array of enforcement activities, policy initiatives, and education and outreach efforts, FHEO is taking action against individual owners and housing providers that break fair housing laws.

HUD has stepped up our efforts on all fronts: we are addressing discriminatory practices that deny housing based on an individual’s race or national origin; we are combatting lending discrimination; we are protecting the rights of persons with disabilities; and we are advancing the programs that increases job opportunities for low-income individuals and contracting opportunities for the businesses that hire them.

HUD also awarded $23 million dollars late last year to almost 80 fair housing organizations to conduct fair housing enforcement, education, and outreach activities. In addition to these grants, the Department recently awarded more than $281,000 dollars to the Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc. – a Fair Housing Initiatives Program that will use these funds to conduct fair housing investigations and other enforcement activities, addressing discriminatory practices in the state of Arkansas. These financing measures are important investments to support our fair housing partners and protect families from discrimination, which is a core part of our mission.

HUD has been, and continues to be, a leader in seeking to address housing discrimination in targeted online advertising. Last month, HUD announced that the Department is charging Facebook with enabling discrimination based on the seven protected classes of the Fair Housing Act. Our investigation shows that Facebook mines extensive data about its users and then uses that data to determine which of its users view housing-related ads, based in part, on protected characteristics. Until HUD can verify that Facebook’s practices are in full compliance with the law, we will continue to use all resources at our disposal to protect Americans from the harmful effects of discrimination. Even as we confront new technologies, the fair housing laws enacted over half a century ago remain clear: discrimination in housing-related advertising is against the law. Just because a process to deliver advertising is opaque and complex doesn’t mean that it’s exempt from our scrutiny and the law of the land. HUD will continue to fashion appropriate remedies and rules of the road for today’s technology as it impacts housing. This is a top priority.

And while any form of discrimination stains the very fabric of our nation, HUD is especially focused on protecting the right of individuals to feel safe and secure in their homes, free from sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances. That’s why the national theme for Fair Housing Month this year, “CALL HUD,” is especially fitting. This theme, which is a call to action, is an appeal to those who experience discrimination, particularly survivors of sexual harassment, to contact HUD for help. Much work remains to be done, but HUD’s efforts in this area are already producing real results for real people.

Sexual Harassment

The Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority – “KCKHA” – paid $360,000 dollars in damages to 14 current and former female residents, settling allegations that housing authority employees subjected them and prospective applicants to sexual harassment. This settlement also required KCKHA to obtain fair housing training for its staff, adopt new policies and procedures to prevent its employees from engaging in sexual harassment in the future, and establish a method through which residents can file complaints with KCKHA management regarding sexual harassment.

In April 2018, HUD reached settlements with Florida, Virginia, and California landlords in actions involving allegations of sexual harassment, totaling approximately $125,000 dollars in relief for the victims.

In the Jacksonville, Florida case, HUD entered into a Conciliation and Voluntary Compliance Agreement with that city’s housing authority, resolving allegations that a female resident was sexually harassed on multiple occasions by a housing authority employee, including being threatened with eviction if she did not submit to his requests. In the Richmond, Virginia case, HUD reached a Conciliation Agreement resolving allegations that an independent living facility failed to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of a female tenant by another tenant. And in the Bakersfield, California case, the Department reached a Conciliation Agreement with a landlord resolving allegations that the landlord made repeated unwanted sexual advances toward a male tenant with a mental disability and ultimately evicted the man for refusing his advances.

Earlier that same month, HUD and the Department of Justice launched a nationwide initiative intended to increase awareness and reporting of sexual harassment in housing. This initiative includes the establishment of an interagency task force between the two agencies, an outreach toolkit, and a public awareness campaign that makes it easier for victims all over the country to find resources and report harassment. The campaign’s 60-second public service announcement features three victims of sexual harassment who challenged their mistreatment in lawsuits brought by HUD. And in the months to come, HUD will host a series of training sessions for public housing authority employees, board members and residents on what constitutes sexual harassment and what should be done to address it. No one should have to endure harassment and mistreatment in order to keep a roof over their head.  

Discrimination Against Families with Children

Another form of discrimination HUD is particularly active in addressing is discrimination against families with children.

Since 1988, the Fair Housing Act has prohibited housing discrimination against families with children under the age of 18. Violations include refusing to rent to a family with one or more children, as well as charging different prices, imposing additional fees, or establishing different rules for families with children. Also covered are expectant families, whether they are pregnant women or persons in the process of adopting or securing custody of a child. Housing is what enables families to feel grounded and have a sense of consistency and security for their futures. Yet every year, HUD receives about 800 complaints alleging this form of discrimination, accounting for around 10 percent of FHEO’s complaint-based work.

Last summer, HUD charged the owner and manager of rental homes in Mobile, Alabama with discrimination for refusing to rent a three-bedroom house to a woman because she had three young children. The case was subsequently settled, with the owner agreeing to pay the woman $10,500 dollars.

And last fall, HUD charged a New Orleans landlord with housing discrimination for advertising units in a way that discriminates against families with children. One specific ad that the landlord posted on Craigslist stated, “No teenagers please.” A family’s housing choices shouldn’t be limited just because they choose to bring life into this world, and our Department is protecting that sacred choice.

Disability Discrimination

HUD is also devoting more energy to fighting the discrimination many persons with disabilities too often face, including being denied the right to keep a service animal or other reasonable accommodations they need to live independently. Most recently, HUD announced an agreement between a woman with a disability and housing providers in Los Angeles, California, resolving claims that the owner and the property manager threatened the woman with eviction because she had an emotional support animal. As a result of the agreement, the defendants paid the woman $8,500 dollars and provided fair housing training to its management and leasing staff. The Department has also handled a number of disability discrimination cases that involved veterans – individuals who risked their lives to protect our freedom – being denied the use of service or emotional support animals. And because our Department is aware that many housing providers continue to have questions regarding their responsibilities when it comes to emotional support and assistance animals, FHEO is in the process of developing guidance that will provide greater clarity. No person with a legitimate disability should be denied housing or the reasonable accommodation they need to enjoy the place they call home.  

Fair Lending and Economic Upward Mobility

HUD is also committed to continuing its efforts to address discriminatory practices that prevent individuals and families from purchasing a house or being able to remain in their current home.

Last fall, HUD charged the owners of a Miami Lakes, Florida mortgage company with discrimination for intentionally targeting Hispanic homeowners in a predatory mortgage modification scheme that increased, rather than decreased, their risk of foreclosure.

At the same time, HUD is doing more to ensure that low-income individuals have an opportunity to move toward self-sufficiency and achieve economic upward mobility. These efforts include putting renewed energy behind Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 – the program that increases access to jobs for low- and very low-income individuals, and contracting opportunities for the businesses that hire them. This program has become even more critical in recent years, as President Trump has made a commitment to putting Americans back to work, and we’ve made it a top priority to help residents of HUD-subsidized housing become more self-sufficient.

In just the last year, expenditures of covered HUD funding generated more than 29,000 jobs, almost 12,000 of which were Section 3 hires. Also, of the more than $5 billion dollars in construction contracts that were awarded during that period, almost half a billion dollars in contracts were awarded to just over 2,500 Section 3 businesses. But as impressive as the numbers are, the real-life stories of individuals whose lives have been touched by the program show the true impact it is having in helping them to build confidence and a better future.

In Spokane, Washington, a Section 3 business called Associate General Contractors is running a program titled “Head Start to the Construction Trades Training Program,” which is teaching basic skills to individuals interested in construction industry careers. And there are other Section 3 success stories involving individuals who have benefitted from the program that are just as powerful.

In addition, HUD maintains a business registry that connects contractors with Section 3 eligible businesses. To date, more than 5,000 businesses have self-certified as being Section 3 eligible, and that number is expected to increase. HUD has also created a more efficient process through which housing authorities, entitlement communities, states, and other HUD grantees can submit the required annual reports that show how they’re complying with the Section 3 program.

Finally, HUD has developed an opportunity portal that can help link employment and contracting opportunities with people looking for jobs and Section 3 businesses looking for contracting opportunities. 

Conclusion

Today’s housing challenges are considerable and there are no easy solutions, but the many initiatives HUD has underway are doing a lot to remove those barriers that keep some from taking full advantage of all America has to offer. More than 50 years after the Fair Housing Act was born, HUD remains firmly committed to carrying its torch, and maintaining a unified nation where every American enjoys equal access to housing and economic opportunity.

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