March 15, 2001
Honorable Mel Martinez
Secretary of Housing & Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20410
Re: Key Civil Rights Issues in the New HUD Administration
Dear Secretary Martinez,
On behalf of the undersigned civil rights and housing advocacy organizations, we are writing to congratulate you on your confirmation and to request a meeting at which we can discuss important civil rights issues facing the agency.
As organizations which have fought to ensure fair housing in private and subsidized housing for decades, we write to you as the head of the federal agency which, under the Fair Housing Act, has been given the lead responsibility to combat housing discrimination and residential segregation in all federal housing and community development programs. This responsibility to “affirmatively further” fair housing in not only HUD programs but those of other federal agencies has not been consistently upheld. You arrive at HUD at a particularly critical time given the fundamental changes in the way public and subsidized housing will be provided and the manner in which HUD itself is structured to process fair housing complaints and ensure that its programs are run in a non-discriminatory manner.
Our comments deal primarily with the need to strengthen HUD’s fair housing enforcement responsibilities, and to ensure fair housing compliance throughout HUD and other agencies’ housing and community development programs. We are also concerned with discriminatory practices that particularly face women, non-English speaking minorities, and persons with disabilities. This list of issues is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, we wish to highlight the most important civil rights issues facing HUD, where we feel important progress can be made in the next few years.
Reaffirming Civil Rights Enforcement priorities
One critical element of the new Administration’s civil rights agenda should be ensuring appropriate resources and policies at the federal civil rights agencies. Among these agencies, the ones with responsibility over fair housing issues include: HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity; the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Civil Rights (particularly as it relates to the Rural Housing Service); and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, particularly the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section.
As reflected in a recent report from the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights, the staffing levels in most federal civil rights agencies have decreased in real terms over the past six years. At HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), for example, staff levels have decreased by 22% between FY 94 and FY 2000 and appropriations have fallen by 14.4%, despite a 15% increase in its Title VIII complaint workload. To remedy this problem, the Administration should increase staffing levels to an appropriate level that, at a minimum, are equivalent to that of FY 94 and correspond to the complaint level at each agency. In addition, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity should have its own line item for staffing and support resources in the HUD budget so that the public can evaluate the level of resources provided in each budget. We also strongly urge the Administration to expand the fair lending and land use initiatives of the Justice Department’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, as well as its more traditional focus on discrimination in rental housing. These efforts have significantly expanded access to homeownership and other quality housing opportunities for minorities and other groups protected under the Fair Housing Act.
Enhancing Regional Housing Mobility in the Section 8 Voucher Program
Section 8 has been proven to be an effective program for helping low income minority families move to more integrated, lower-poverty neighborhoods, but results could be even better than they have been. The long term educational and employment benefits of mobility have been studied in the Chicago Gautreaux program and in HUD’s Moving To Opportunity program. But enormous barriers to mobility continue to thwart Section 8 clients in their search for housing outside of high-poverty neighborhoods. HUD could undertake a number of enhancements to make Section 8 mobility a reality for more families. In HUD’s fiscal year 1999 budget, Congress appropriated $10 million for Regional Opportunity Counseling (ROC) funds that have never been expended. HUD also has authority to increase the administrative fees that Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) receive to help families move to areas of low poverty. HUD could also empower its grantees under the Fair Housing Initiatives Program to test for discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders. Opportunities for regional mobility also are enhanced by HUD’s recent interim rule that increases fair market rents in metropolitan areas where voucher holders are overly concentrated in certain neighborhoods. Making that rule final, with certain improvements, should encourage and empower housing agencies to promote opportunities throughout their regions.