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"Annual Surveys of Housing Discrimination and Affordability"

May/June 2009 issue of Poverty & Race

Two leading housing advocacy organizations have just released their annual reports on the state of fair housing and housing affordability in America. The “Fair Housing Trends” report from the National Fair Housing Alliance tracks key indicators of housing segregation; the annual “Out of Reach” report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition documents the continuing housing affordability gap in a state-by-state analysis. Here are brief summaries of the key findings of each report:

“Fair Housing Trends”

The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) released its 2009 Fair Housing Trends Report, “Fair Housing Enforcement: Time for a Change,” tracking private and government fair housing enforcement activity in the prior year. NHFA reports that the number of fair housing complaints handled by private groups jumped by 17% from the previous year, to 20,173. This amounts to 66% of all complaints nationwide. In 2008, HUD handled only 2,123 fair housing complaints, state and local agencies only 8,429, and the Justice Department only 33 cases.

NFHA observed that the increase in complaints handled by private fair housing agencies was related to the worsening foreclosure crisis and internet advertising that violates fair housing laws. NFHA alone filed more than 350 complaints with HUD last year based on internet advertising discrimination.The majority of the ads discriminate against families with children. All types of discrimination against families increased between 2007 and 2008.

In the area of fair lending, NFHA reports that private fair housing centers around the country have seen more cases of discrimination in mortgage lending than ever before. Yet HUD initiated only four investigations into lending discrimination last year and the Justice Department brought only one mortgage lending case. Overall, according to NFHA, HUD handled only 60 fair lending complaints in 2008, compared to 1,500 handled by private fair housing centers.

“Out of Reach”

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s “Out of Reach 2009” reports that the national average two-bedroom “Housing Wage” rose to $17.84, up from $17.32 last year. The Housing Wage is the hourly wage that a household must earn in order to afford the Fair Market Rent, assuming full-time, year-round employment. The Fair Market Rent is HUD’s estimate of what a tenant needs to be able to pay in order to be assured of finding a modest rental home in a range of neighborhoods within a reasonable amount of time. This year’s Housing Wage translates into an annual income of $37,105. Published since 1989, “Out of Reach” compares the cost of rental housing with household incomes, each state’s minimum wage, and average renter wages in every state, metropolitan area and county in the country.

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