Region IV’s Field Office Directors were charged with taking a critical look at the customer service requests in each of their localities and develop a strategy for addressing their constituents’ concerns. In doing so, the team brainstormed opportunities to address these needs on a broader scale and thought of ways to provide information on some of the issues that were not as common. When analyzing the data, it was noted that fair housing was not a predominant topic in the interaction with callers, visitors, and those reaching out via email. So, the question was asked, “does this mean that there are no Fair Housing issues? Or do individuals not know enough about their rights to raise them?”
It was decided that fair housing education was needed. Shea Johnson, Georgia Field Operations Director, Jerrie G. Magruder, Mississippi Field Office Director and Kristine Foye, South Carolina Field Office Director, volunteered to spearhead a training for the region. The other field office directors in the Southeast joined the effort with outreach and volunteered their staff to assist: Jennae Shinsky (Jax FL); Camille Volper (GA); Vonell Benton (GA); Ziva James (MS); and Dedra Carey (SC). Regional Operations and the Public Affairs team geared logistics. The result was that the summit reached over 1,200 participants on the notable day of 2.22.22.
The planners wanted this conference to touch on traditional topics but also to address some areas not often covered by fair housing sessions. Tiffany Cobb, Deputy Regional Administrator kicked the session off and introduced HUD’s new Regional Administrator in the Southeast, Jose Alvarez, who provided a background on the Fair Housing Act. There was an overview of Region IV case statistics contrasted to national statistics from SE Fair Housing Director Carlos Osegueda. Richard Cho, PhD, Senior Advisor in the Office of the Secretary, discussed Fair Housing Criminal History-Based Practices and Policies and how they can intersect with fair housing laws. John Joplin, ESQ, Housing Director of the MS Center for Justice went on to discuss the current status of LGBTQ Housing Discrimination He zoomed in on Bostock v. Clayton County (and some other cases) and President Biden’s Executive Order 13988 of January 20, 2021 - Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation to show how the fair housing act can cover the LGBTQ community.
“Service and Emotional Support Animals and Accommodations/Modification of Units” was covered by Marvin Caldwell, Jr., Deputy Commissioner for Compliance Programs, SC Human Affairs Commission. This topic is a common question presented at our offices and was included specifically for individuals, public housing authorities and multifamily properties.
Familial Status and Fair Lending are also two topics that folks do not normally equate with coverage by Fair Housing Laws, but they are indeed covered. Region IV FHEO staffers, Charles President, Director of HUD Jacksonville Fair Housing; and Staci Gilliam, HUD Regional FHEO Program/Compliance Director respectively covered these areas.
Region IV is proud that comments received from staff and attendees all reflect that they learned something new about fair housing rights. We know from the 1,929 registrations that came from all the southeastern states, Puerto Rico and the USVI that we had participants who identified as individuals, employees of housing authorities, multifamily properties, nonprofits, banks, attorneys, and governmental staff, including Congressional staffers. We anticipate an increase in calls relating to possible fair housing violations.