Bipartisan Commission Releases “Future of Fair Housing” Report

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorWashington, D.C.—Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity has released its findings and recommendations from a six-month long investigation into the state of fair housing in the United States.The Commission reports that although there are about four million fair housing violations each year, fewer than 30,000 complaints were filed with HUD in 2007. Of these complaints, only 31 charges were prosecuted last year. Hosted by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the bipartisan Commission was co-chaired by former HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) Secretaries Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros. “The Future of Fair Housing,” which is the product of public hearings in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta, examines how discriminatory lending tactics have contributed to the current foreclosure crisis and how fair housing can be a tool to protect homeowners.”Civil rights organizations have for years been warning about predatory lending and sub-prime mortgages that target communities of color, communities that often don’t have access to traditional lending institutions,” said Okianer Christian Dark, associate dean for academic affairs at the Howard University College of Law and a member of the Commission. The 99-page report outlines recommendations dealing with enforcement and education that the Commission believes is crucial to moving forward. Key among these recommendations is the creation of an independent fair housing enforcement agency, the incorporation of fair housing principles into foreclosure relief implementation, and the revival of the President’s Fair Housing Council.The report details evidence that HUD’s enforcement of the Fair Housing Act has been inconsistent and an independent agency could bring together representatives from various industries, as well as advocates and enforcers. Furthermore, according to the Commission, the President’s Fair Housing Council should ensure HUD’s regulations are applied at other federal agencies.Other recommendations include ensuring and strengthening compliance with the obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing,” strengthening the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP), adopting a regional approach to fair housing, creating a consistent fair housing education campaign and a collaborative approach to fair housing issues.”Forty years after the Fair Housing Act, the Commission has presented us with a unique opportunity to re-examine whether our government is doing all it can to advance fair housing, integration, and equal opportunity,” said Shanna Smith, president, National Fair Housing Alliance. “In the context of our housing and economic crisis, the Commission’s report reflects on our government’s role in the continuing state of housing inequality and the reforms necessary to ensure its vigorous enforcement of the law so that we can move towards stable, diverse and inclusive neighborhoods.”