Illegal Steering – Recent Fair Housing Settlement Shows Feds Lack of Tolerance for the Practice

The United States Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) reached a Settlement Agreement with the Decatur (AL) Housing Authority on June 26 after a HUD compliance review determined that the Authority maintained discriminatory housing practices in three of its senior properties. Specifically, HUD’s review revealed that the housing authority discriminated against elderly black applicants who applied for housing at more desirable properties (The Towers) by repeatedly skipping over them on the wait list even though they were supposed to be the next applicant to be housed. Black applicants were also steered to less desirable units at one of the housing authority’s racially and ethnically concentrated properties (Westgate Gardens).

HUD conducted a compliance review to assess the housing authority’s compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs receiving federal financial assistance. In addition, the Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in the rental or sale of housing due to national origin, race, color, religion, sex, familial status or disability. As a result of the review, HUD identified discrimination in the housing authority’s rental policies, waiting lists, and transfer requests with regard to its senior residents.

Under the terms of the agreement, the housing authority will pay $200,000 in damages by creating a victims’ fund and providing direct compensation to the residents harmed by the discriminatory practice. The Agency will also update its policies relating to its waiting and transfer lists and evictions, and train current and new employees who have contact with applicants or residents above Title VI, the Fair Housing Act, and other applicable civil rights requirements, with a specific emphasis on discrimination based on race, color, and national origin.

This settlement makes clear that the Federal government will not tolerate illegal steering in the provision of housing. Owners and managers must ensure that resident selection policies and waiting lists are administered in a way that does not give any preference based on a protected characteristic. Ongoing review of these policies is recommended as is strong oversight of staff in order to prevent they type of discriminatory practice represented by this Settlement Agreement.