Home / Press Room / Speeches, Remarks, Statements / Bringing Fairness to Fair Housing

Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Indiana Civil Rights Commission, Region V.  Fair Housing Law and Policy Conference
Indianapolis, IN
October 10, 2018
Bringing Fairness to Fair Housing

Introduction

Thank you, Lt. Governor Crouch for the introduction.

I also want to thank Doneisha Posey [Deputy Director and General Counsel] and other members of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, and the Region Five leadership for the invitation to join you today.

I value your ongoing commitment to protecting vulnerable families and your dedication to the letter and the spirit of the Fair Housing Act.

The upcoming training, which ranges from emerging issues in Fair Housing, to litigation techniques, to the panel on sustaining diverse communities, will help you continue to bring fairness to fair housing.

HUD has a strong relationship with our fair housing partners, especially among local and state housing leaders. We have to rely on each other’s expertise and experience. Our effectiveness depends on a united effort. Last year alone, we fielded nearly 8,200 complaints alleging discrimination, and that would not have been possible without all of us working in unison.

HUD conducts a housing discrimination study every ten years. And each decade our study has shown discrimination in our rental and sales market has declined, thanks to the dedicated enforcement of the law by HUD and all its partners.

This is a success story that we can all celebrate.

Celebrating the Fair Housing Act

Today, we also celebrate the anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, signed fifty years ago.

For those of you of a certain age, it was an event we can never forget. I remember that day vividly as a high-school student in Detroit. That April marked two significant moments in our nation’s history. We witnessed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Each event is closely linked with the other – with the legislation bringing us hope that King’s Dream could come true. Far from silencing his dream, King’s earlier message of equality, justice, and the dignity of all people resounds just as strongly today.

I believe, as King did, that we need to rediscover what made this nation great -- what is good about America, and the bedrock principles and beliefs that have guided us.  It’s up to all Americans -- not Democrats, not Republicans, not Independents -- to reject the voices of division that have cropped up and come together as one country.

Our strength lies in our democratic values, our civility to one another. Where people care about their neighbors, have a strong sense of community, and a well-defined vision of America as a land of opportunity, justice, and freedom for all.

This should form the foundation of our actions as we go forward in our mission of providing fair housing.

Recent Accomplishments

This morning, I want to focus on several of our recent activities in the housing discrimination space.

First, we initiated a formal complaint against Facebook for violating the Fair Housing Act by allowing both landlords and home sellers to use its advertising platform to engage in housing discrimination. As one of my assistant secretaries recently said, “when Facebook uses the vast amount of personal data it collects to discriminate, it’s the same as slamming the door.”

We will leave it to others to engage in the debate over internet censorship. Our role is to remain vigilant and keep pace with various social media platforms -- housing discrimination should never find any safe haven online.

Second, we’re placing a greater emphasis on sexual harassment complaints. Two months ago, we joined with the Department of Justice to launch a new public awareness campaign on this very issue. I am sure we would all agree that no one should have to choose between a home and the right to be free from sexual harassment.

Third, we’re working to remove more regulatory burdens in the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.

Recently, we closed our comment period on whether our disparate impact rule under the Fair Housing Act is consistent with the Supreme Court’s “inclusive communities” decision -- which sets limits to protect potential defendants against abusive discrimination claims.  As many of you know, disparate impact centers on whether a party can be found liable for discrimination through neutral practices that have more of an impact on protected classes, than on others.

We’ve received nearly 2,00 comments and are now reviewing and analyzing them – so stay tuned.

Moreover, a federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit which challenged our approach to amending the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, or AFFH, Rule. In particular, the judge upheld our decision to suspend the use of a computer tool that was failing to help communities meet their fair housing responsibilities, as required under the Fair Housing Act.

A clear majority of local governments struggled with the assessment tool, as they found it confusing and difficult to use. Not surprisingly, many communities that tried to apply often failed, and stood to lose millions in critically needed federal funding.

What we want to do in pursuing new rulemaking -- and why we’re asking for public comment from all parties concerned -- is to lessen regulatory burdens, while at the same time, help local officials meet their obligations.

Lowering Regs and Increasing Supply

While the current rule is busy centering on computer analytics to discover discrimination, I want to take a closer look at the archaic local and state regulatory barriers – such as zoning and land use restrictions – that are preventing the construction of new mixed-income multifamily developments, whether in poor or wealthier neighborhoods.

More specifically, we should try to bring fairness to fair housing by increasing the supply of affordable multifamily housing through a number of initiatives, including financial incentives.

Basically, I want to encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings. And how can we do this? By rewarding the local authorities who loosen up zoning rules that artificially drive up the costs of housing and multifamily developments. While HUD cannot control local zoning, we can have influence by “incentivizing” local officials -- who would like a big juicy government grant -- to take another look at their zoning codes.

It’s been estimated that over 30 percent of the cost of a multifamily development nationwide, is the direct result of these types of regulations. Moreover, a large majority of big city land parcels are eligible only for single-family homes, and not larger multifamily buildings -- which could house more people, and in the process, moderate rent prices.

As a recent think tank study pointed out, to the surprise of no one, federal housing subsidies are twice as high in more restrictive zoned states because of the high price of land use.

It’s about time we take a long, serious, look at all the regulations that have held back America’s affordable housing supply – especially multifamily housing -- from keeping pace with demand.

Housing Voucher Acceptance

Finally, we are also exploring new ways to expand landlord acceptance of our housing voucher program.

We recently sponsored the first large-scale study on how and why landlords treat people with vouchers differently from other renters. I’m sure you can guess some of the answers: they include frustration with the program’s paperwork, inspections, and other bureaucratic processes, along with how local housing authorities resolve tenant disputes. Some even point to the perceived lack of competitive rents.

What landlords do like is the program’s reliable rent deposits. To which, we should also add, is their honest desire to help others and “to do good.”

To further the conversation, I have formed an agency-wide taskforce, whose first step is to take a landlord engagement listening tour. We started in Washington, D.C. in late September and it’s currently on the road -- with listening forums from Atlanta, to Dallas, to Salem, Oregon.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us in finding new ways to streamline the overall voucher process and discover even more creative ways to entice landlords. Only by listening to our landlord’s concerns and observations will we be able to go forward with the right steps.

With all our initiatives, we’re inclined to local and voluntary, rather than federally mandated and compulsory, solutions. It’s the best way to get a buy-in from all the parties involved -- thereby making it a “win-win” for both tenants and landlords.

Conclusion

Let me close on this note.

Bringing fairness to fair housing is a special and unique task. Your mission of trying to expand housing options for our vulnerable families is deeply appreciated.

We need to envision a new path forward in all aspects of our housing policies. And that’s what I want to bring to those who we serve, a new vision: one of hope, self-respect, self -sufficiency, and the opportunity to exercise their God-given talents.

I want to thank you again for your dedication and commitment.

Have a great conference.

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