Bush Conservatives Help Preserve Racism in Housing

USA Today has a recent story on how the Bush administration is not vigorously pursuing housing discrimination cases even as discrimination complaints against real estate agents, landlords, and lending companies have grown in recent years. (photo: Licht)

In effect, real estate agents, landlords, lenders, and other (mostly white) housing actors can discriminate on racial, gender, and other illegal grounds in the United States until the cows come home, with very little chance of suffering any significant penalty for that discrimination. This has been true for many years in this country. That is, our civil rights laws in the housing area are not enforced or they are weakly enforced. The USA Today reporter summarizes the U.S. reality of no redress for housing discrimination:

Most renters and buyers who seek help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are unlikely to get relief for their complaints, which can include alleged discrimination by landlords and sellers based on race, religion, sex or disability. The agency is throwing out a growing number of complaints, federal data show. The housing agency, responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases under the Federal Fair Housing Act, filed 31 discrimination charges in 2007 and 36 in 2006. Charges for those two years combined dropped 65% from the last two years of the Clinton administration — 111 charges were filed in 1999; 82 in 2000. Complaints during the same period rose from fewer than 7,100 in both 1999 and 2000 to more than 10,000 in both 2006 and 2007.

The shocking lawlessness of HUD can be seen in the continuing lethargy in charging housing discriminators this year, with only 12 housing providers being charged so far this year, with two other cases referred to the Justice department. The article quotes National Fair Housing Alliance head, the veteran housing advocate Shanna Smith, as noting that none of the major Bush agencies responsible for enforcing fair housing laws is doing its job: “It’s a drop in the bucket for the number of complaints that happen annually.”

HUD defends itself with the claim that they prefer to negotiate settlements, rather than to go to court:

The agency is settling more cases overall than during the previous administration, but the percentage of settled cases has declined. In 1999, HUD settled 778 cases, 42% of the total investigated. In 2007, it settled 948 cases — 36.5% of the total investigated.

No presidential administration since the housing laws were passed has made this national housing scandal a priority to address. There are millions of housing discrimination acts in this country each year, but only 10,000 people file complaints—and only a few thousand cases (at most) of the housing discrimination cases are resolved each year by federal agencies or HUD-certified and funded local and state housing agencies.

A major Urban Institute study done for the previous HUD administration in 2000 involved 4,600 paired tests in 23 metropolitan areas. These paired tests involved a person of color and a white person posing as home seekers as they visit real estate or rental agents and inquire about advertised housing. According to this report, rental agents in metropolitan markets were less likely to give people of color information about available housing or an opportunity to inspect available housing than they were for whites. Nationally, rental agents subjected African Americans and Asian Americans to discrimination about 22 percent of the time; Latinos, 26 percent of the time; and Native Americans, 29 percent of the time. In metropolitan markets, real estate agents were less likely to give home buyers of color an opportunity to inquire about or inspect available homes in predominantly white neighborhoods. Agents were less likely to give home buyers of color assistance with financing. African Americans homebuyers were discriminated against 17 percent of the time, and Latino home buyers were discriminated against 20 percent of the time, with Asian American and Pacific Islander home buyers experiencing discrimination about 20 percent of the time and Native American home buyers facing discrimination 17 percent of the time.

Moreover, if we look beyond this initial-stage (one-visit) discrimination and examine later-stage housing discrimination, such as for multiple housing searches and dealing with mortgage lenders, and if we extrapolate these data to all people of color searching for housing across the country over a year, we can reasonably estimate that several million cases of housing discrimination are carried out each year, a large proportion being racial discrimination cases. Roberta Achtenberg, assistant HUD secretary in the 1990s, estimated that the number could be as high as 10 million cases of housing discrimination annually.

It is interesting how often whites, especially white conservatives, claim we are no longer a racist country. I gather that looking at actual data on housing and much other institutionalized discrimination as it affects Americans of color is too much of burden for these analysts. (photo: josho99)

Note: In addition to the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Fair Housing Advocate Online has good research discussions on fair housing issues, as well as good links to helpful legal and other resources.

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