Urban and Rural Development

By Harold Moon

Vol. 2, No. 1, 1979, pp. 23

The status of equal opportunity in housing will be greatly influenced by two contrasting changes presently underway in Washington. One endangers the reporting of vital information needed to test compliance with civil rights laws and the other proposes to enlarge the enforcement effects of the government to insure fair housing.

The first change involves the decision by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to no longer require recipients of its Community Development Block grants to submit data on race and sex in their progress reports on federally funded projects. In its effort to reduce paperwork at the request of the Office of Management and Budget, HUD has drawn heated objections from civil rights organizations because of its "abdication of the agency's responsibility" to evaluate and determine the actual equal opportunity performance of a project.

The deletion of the Grantee Performance Report (GPR), a major document to evaluate exactly how a local community has allocated its grant funds, would deeply cripple the enforcement ability of HUD and side-step the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The GRP closely monitors and indicates by demographics if minorities and females are sharing in the fruits of the program. Although a grantee is required to comply with civil rights laws and regulations, the elimination of supportive data of race and sex will not provide HUD with sufficient information.

"We do not believe that the mandate to reduce paperwork was ever intended to be at the expense of the national commitment to assure non-discrimination and equal opportunity," said the Housing Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Furthermore, LCCR's Housing Task Force argued that the elimination of the required information violates HUD's own regulations and manuals as well as the provision of the civil rights laws.

The second change - this one only proposed - would amend Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which makes it unlawful in the sale, rental or financing of housing to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex. The current statute has been hard to enforce and the proponents are attempting to strengthen the legislation in light of recent evidence of non-enforcement.

A survey of 3,000 brokers and rental agents in 40 metropolitan areas recently found that a Black person stands a 62 percent chance of encountering discrimination when seeking to buy a house and a 75 percent chance when seeking to rent. The Department of Justice has assigned merely 13 attorneys to assist HUD in investigating all of the nation's housing discrimination practices.

Outgoing HUD Secretary Patricia Harris recently told Congress, "The lack of adequate enforcement power has been the most serious obstacle to the development of an effective fair housing program within HUD.

Our present authority is limited to a purely voluntary process of conference, conciliation and persuasion."

Proponents are attempting to amend the 1968 Act with the Fair Housing Amendment of 1979 which calls for an additional 2.6 million dollars for enforcement and changes in the law's coverage.

The amendment would give HUD the authority to conduct hearings, present evidence and issue binding orders - such as the cease and desist orders. The charges would also include the handicapped among those protected from discrimination and eliminate some exemptions now allowed.

In his January 1979 State of the Union message, President Jimmy Carter added his support to urge increasing HUD's authority, "Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 remains largely an empty promise because of the lack of adequate enforcement mechanisms," remarked the President. "We need to amend the Fair Housing Act to remove the burden and expense of enforcing the law from the shoulders of the poor victims of housing discrimination."

Unfortunately, unless momentum is gained, Washington observers expect the reporting requirements to be revised and the fair housing amendment to fail. For more information, write: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, 2027 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.