Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sent out a press release noting that it awarded over $37 million (yes, $37 million) to combat housing discrimination under its Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP). Add it all up and this money will support more than 150 national and local fair housing organizations, each with a mission (at least in part) to catch professional apartment management violating the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) or its state, city, and/or local counterparts.
What do these local fair housing groups do with $37 million in taxpayer money? These grants permit fair housing enforcement via testers (individuals hired to compare and contrast how various protected classes are treated when inquiring about housing opportunities), investigations, and ultimately by the filing of discrimination complaints. To be fair, this money also provides for fair housing training and public education on housing matters.
Broken down by category, the HUD grants include: $30 million in Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI) grants; $7.45 million in Education and Outreach Initiative (EOI) grants; and $500,000 in Fair Housing Organizations Initiative (FHOI) money. The PEI funds are used by HUD partners who conduct intake, testing, investigation, and litigation of fair housing complaints. The EOI money is provided to organizations that educate the public about fair housing while the FHOI dollars look to help improve the effectiveness of non-profit fair housing organizations that focus on assisting the needs of underserved groups.
What does this mean for the housing industry? Follow the FHA and the state/city/county laws where your property is located. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. This includes training your leasing office staff. As well as your service team members. Checking your advertising. Reviewing your written materials. Keeping good service records. Evaluating your criminal background screening criteria. Your credit checks. And your waitlists. Your response to reasonable accommodation requests. Your response to reasonable modification requests. There is certainly more, but you see my point.
Can professional apartment management get it right? Absolutely. I see it all the time. But know that my docket is filled with complaints filed by these fair housing advocates, literally from California to Texas to Florida and just about everywhere in between.
Just A Thought.