The Fair Housing & Community Development Project is consistently engaged with national fair housing and consumer protection coalitions, members of the Obama Administration and Congressional staff in advocating for several fair housing, fair lending, and tenants’ rights policies.
The most significant of the federal policy initiatives the Project supports are the following:
- Amending the Fair Housing Act (FHA)
- Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act
- Advocating for Improved Enforcement of the FHA’s Requirement that Recipients of Federal Financial Assistance Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH)
- Advocating for the Disparate Impact Standard of Proof for Violations of the Fair Housing Act
State and local policy initiatives include the following:
- Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center – Inclusionary Zoning
- NO/AIDS Task Force – Housing Choice in Louisiana
- Louisiana Housing Alliance – Tenants’ Rights in Louisiana
- Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center – Housing Code Enforcement
- Miami Workers’ Center – Community-Controlled Housing
- The Arc of Virginia – Integrated Housing for Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Beginning in March 2010, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties held a series of hearings examining the Fair Housing Act. The Project worked closely with Committee staff and at the first hearing on March 11, Barbara Arnwine testified to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee about current fair housing issues and challenges. Ms. Arnwine also offered several suggestions for improving the Act, drawing mainly from the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity’s December 2008 report, “The Future of Fair Housing.” The Project was one of four national civil rights groups that created this National Commission to mark the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act and played a central role in drafting the Commission’s report. In addition, Ms. Arnwine testified about the newly formed LoanModification Scam Prevention Network.
Thereafter, working with the Fair Housing Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Project formulated recommendations to Judiciary Committee staff for a series of amendments to the Fair Housing Act. Legislation calling for a series of amendments to the Act was introduced on December 8, 2010.
For much of 2010, the Project worked with the Americans for Financial Reform (AFFR), a large coalition of consumers’ rights, labor union and civil rights organizations, which strongly advocated for the creation of an independent consumer protection agency. The Lawyers’ Committee’s special interest in this bill was the strengthening of the enforcement of the Equal CreditOpportunity Act (ECOA) through the creation of a new and independent consumer protection agency. Before this legislation, enforcement authority for the ECOA was spread between several independent bank regulatory agencies that have all but ignored fair lending enforcement under the ECOA. The Project strongly supported the enactment of legislation authorizing the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency and the Project’s support and efforts played a crucial role in the bill’s content and passage.
On July 21, 2010 Congress passed and the President signed the most important consumer protection legislation in 50 years. The most important provisions in the bill for purposes of the Project’s work are: (1) the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Department of Treasury; (2) the prohibitions of many lending practices that were a central cause of the subprime lending crisis, which fell disproportionately on minorities and was a major factor in the ongoing foreclosure crisis which continues to the present; and (3) broad provisions changing the pre-emption rules which have grown up in the last six years, crippling vigorous consumer protection and fair lending enforcement by states.
Advocating for Improved Enforcement of the Fair Housing Act’s Requirement that Recipients of Federal Financial Assistance Affirmatively Further Fair Housing
Throughout 2010, the Project worked with several fair housing organizations to support and advocate for improved enforcement of the important requirement in Section 808(e)(5) of the Fair Housing Act requiring HUD and recipients of federal housing assistance to affirmatively further fair housing. The Project signed on to a series of letters supporting HUD programs that promoted this requirement, as well as several letters advocating that this requirement be included in otherprograms or legislation.
Other Project activities related to this issue included: (1) participation in a July 15 meeting, at the invitation of HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing, to discuss a formal regulation addressing Section 808 that HUD is considering; (2) advocating for full enforcement of the precedent-setting consent decree concerning the duty to affirmatively further fair housing in a case against Westchester County, New York, including a meeting with the Court-appointed monitor; and (3) assisting the Community Development Project in the drafting the “affirmatively furthering fair housing” portion of a handbook being prepared for the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and the City of New Orleans Planning Commission.
On July 23, Project Director Joe Rich participated on a panel at HUD’s Annual Conference, which was held in New Orleans during the week of July 19-23. Mr. Rich discussed the disparate impact standard of proof under the Fair Housing Act and its importance in fair lending and exclusionary zoning cases. Mr. Rich also made a presentation at a conference sponsored by the National Consumer Law Center on September 20 entitled “The Color of Credit,” at which he traced the history of the disparate impact standard of proof in fair housing cases and its importance in pending cases challenging the discriminatory impact of the banking industry’s policies permitting and encouraging the discretionary pricing of loans.
The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is dedicated to eradicating housing discrimination throughout the greater New Orleans area through education, investigation, enforcement, and policy. The Lawyers’ Committee is assisting GNOFHAC on advocating for New Orleans to adopt an effective inclusionary zoning policy, which promotes socio-economically and racially integrated housing. The recently released Draft Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) includes a voluntary inclusionary zoning program that offers a density bonus to projects that set aside a certain percentage of the units as affordable. The Lawyers’ Committee and GNOFHAC submitted comments to the City Planning Commission to strengthen this program. Visit GNOFHAC here.
The Lawyers’ Committee is working with local partners to advocate for a Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) – the state policy that governs the administration of the Low Income Housing Tax Creditprogram – that creates more housing choice and opportunity for low-income families. Lawyers’ Committee staff and clinical students gave a presentation to the Louisiana Housing Corporation in March 2013 on best practices for using the QAP to incentivize affordable housing development in high-opportunity communities, in low-income communities that are part of a Concerted Community Revitalization Plan, and in integrated settings for people with disabilities. The presentation can be found here. We continue to work with NO/AIDS and other organizations to advocate for the State to adopt changes to the QAP.
The Fair Housing & Community Development Project is assisting the Louisiana Housing Alliance and working closely with other local partners, to advocate for the State to update its landlord-tenant law to provide greater tenant protections. Read about the issue and a quote from Counsel David Zisser here.
The Fair Housing & Community Development Project is assisting the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) and working closely with several other local partners to advocate for the City of New Orleans to revise its Housing Code to require regular inspections of rental units and to ensure that the Office of Code Enforcement is enforcing existing provisions. Currently, tenants have no recourse with the City if their landlord fails to make needed repairs.
The Miami Workers’ Center initiates and supports grassroots organizations that confront racism, poverty, and environmental destruction. Their mission aims to create a progressive political and social environment in South Florida that allows for the full growth and development of low-income communities of color. The Lawyers’ Committee is supporting the Miami Workers’ Center’s efforts in addressing the lack of safe and affordable housing in Miami. Click here to visit the Miami Workers’ Center’s website.
The Fair Housing & Community Development Project is advising The Arc of Virginia on what the Commonwealth of Virginia can and must do in its housing programs to comply with its Settlement Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Visit The Arc here.