HUD Enforcement Efforts Criticized in Hearing
Feature Story by Menna Demessie - 7/8/2002"It’s been more than three decades since the Federal Fair Housing Act and there are more than 2 million cases of housing discrimination every year in which race is the most common factor," stated U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) at a recent meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunities.
Gutierrez and others grilled Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Kenneth Marcus on HUD’s sluggish efforts to address the discrimination towards minorities and people with disabilities that is common throughout the United States.
"Housing should be a basic right. It is extremely important that we have a fair system regardless of race, sex, class, or religion," said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Lee was reacting to Marcus’s remark that while discrimination existed, he could propose no remedy to HUD’s inability to investigate the thousands of housing complaints filed in a timely manner or the rejection of complaints written on improper forms created by HUD itself.
Frustrated with HUD’s apparent declining commitment to tackle this issue, Barbara R. Arnwine, Executive Director Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, "Rather than providing more staff to investigate and respond to the complaints, HUD has taken Congress's clear mandate to operate a straight-forward, user-friendly complaint process and turned it on its head."
"They have created a labyrinth-like system, designed to administratively dismiss complaints without conducting any investigation to determine the merits of the underlying claim," charged Arnwine.
The hearing raised issues concerning Bush’s nationwide call to increase minority homeownership to 18.5 million from 13 million by the end of the decade, which runs counter to the administration’s plans to restrict redevelopment initiative funds for HUD.
The President’s failure to back up his sound-good proposal with policies that would help eradicate housing discrimination are echoed in Marcus’s refusal to seriously acknowledge the implications of HUD’s lack of enforcement: "Our greatest problem is distribution of personnel and our program areas need to best marshal our resources... it’s a managerial problem."
Arnwine disagreed, pointing to the obvious consequences of a toothless watchdog: "This reprehensible conduct by HUD seemingly returns us to a day where we had a law that banned discrimination but without an effective enforcement system to make that promise a reality."