Available data from HUD and other sources reveals that in 2013 housing discrimination is usually more subtle that just the old example of an apartment complex declining to rent to an individual because simply he or she is African American or a Hispanic American.  These cases, however, still come up from time to time.  And provide a good reminder for us all in the professional apartment management world.

Earlier this summer, HUD announced that a housing company in Alabama paid $29,000 to resolve a complaint that one of its agents refused to show a unit to a potential resident because he was African American.  The applicant filed a complaint with HUD after alleging that the agent — apparently inadvertently — left him a voice mail message stating she did not wish to deal with him because he was African American and furthermore, gave her opinion that the Caucasian neighbors who lived near the unit “will panic when they see a black person drive up and look at it.”  The agent further stated that she had left the applicant a message and if the agent had not returned the call she could have been sued for “prejudice.”

I know there are always multiple sides to every case and I never prejudge any facts.  That being said, paying “only” $29,000 to settle this matter based on these facts shows good work by defense counsel (and I was not involved with this case).

Just A Thought.

Just yesterday the Respondents in the Mount Holly Gardens housing discrimination case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court filed their brief explaining why disparate impact claims are indeed viable under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).  In short, the residents argue that the FHA forbids both intentional housing discrimination (disparate treatment) and acts which have a discriminatory effect (disparate impact).  In support of their view, the Respondents note that the “plain language” of the statute (as well as its history and purpose) encompasses an action’s effect, not just the actor’s motivation.  Next, the brief states that essentially every court which has considered the issue has indeed concluded that disparate impact is covered under current law and that, in fact, Congress rebuffed prior attempts to eliminate disparate impact claims under the FHA.  Additionally, the brief contends that HUD’s regulations issued earlier this year (and which contain the disparate impact standard) are entitled to deference by reviewing courts.

To be sure, as I wrote last month, rumors continue that the parties are close to settling the case.  A settlement would more than likely moot the Supreme Court review.  As of now, however, the case is scheduled for oral argument before the justices on December 4, 2013.

I try to keep politics out of the Fair Housing Defense Blog.  Nothing good can come of it.  This is not a liberal or a conservative site.    Remember, just two years ago the city of St. Paul, MN settled a disparate impact case involving rental housing issues after the Supreme Court had accepted this same legal issue for review.  Media reports speculated that the Justice Department was involved in convincing the city to settle because some were concerned how the Supreme Court would rule.  From my seat, however, I would like the Supreme Court to rule on a FHA case – one way or the other – to provide guidance on a question and issue of law which will continue to come up.  And which is important to those of us in the professional apartment management industry.

Just A Thought.

 

I have hesitated to publish a post on how the federal government shutdown might impact professional apartment management and housing as I keep thinking Congress and the Administration will jointly find a Profile in Courage moment and resolve the issues that divide them.  Well, as I am still waiting, here goes:

A couple of days before the shutdown, HUD published its contingency plan that would go into effect if the necessary appropriations bills were not passed.  Which, of course, is exactly what took place.

In the case of a government shutdown, most federal employees are required to stop working.   Only “excepted” employees are able to report to work and “excepted” is a narrowly defined term to include employees necessary to address emergency situations and to perform work funded by fees rather than appropriations.  HUD has over 8,700 employees.  Of which less than 350 are considered “excepted.”  To be sure, additional employees may be asked to report to work on an as-needed basis to perform specific functions.  HUD estimated that no more than 400 additional employees would report to work each day.   Similarly, among USDA’s rural housing programs, Rural Development (“RD”) has issued plans for a temporary shutdown. Of RD’s 4,730 employees, it is believed that no more than 53 employees are at work now.

This means the vast majority of HUD’s and USDA’s employees are furloughed.  While the government is shutdown, employees who are furloughed are not permitted to be making calls, checking emails, or doing any other kind of work.

Here are a couple of examples of programs and functions impacted:

•    Tenant-Based Rental Assistance. Housing Assistance Payments and administrative fees are projected to be disbursed through October. Tenant protection vouchers for public housing or multifamily actions will not be processed.

•    Project-Based Rental Assistance. HUD will make some payments under Section 8 contracts, rent supplement, Section 236, and project rental assistance contracts (PRACs) where funds from prior appropriations or recaptures are still available.  It does not appear that HUD will process any Section 8 contract renewal or waiver requests during the shutdown.

•    Public Housing. Local public housing agencies (PHAs) will not shut down, but PHAs that receive significant federal funding may be impacted by the shutdown.  It is believed that most of the country’s PHAs have the necessary funds to continue providing public housing assistance through at least the end of October.  After October, I suspect each PHA will need to review its own resources.

  • Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity.  Most employees are furloughed and, as such, cases will not be processed or investigated.  Questions will not be answered.

For now, the bottom line for apartment management at this time is to keep doing what we do.   Although most of us will not hear back from HUD and/or USDA.  If the shutdown heads into another month, I will report back on further contingency plans.

Just A Thought.