Last month was National Fair Housing Month, which increases efforts to end housing discrimination and raises awareness of fair housing rights. April is also the anniversary of The Fair Housing Act. Designed to protect Americans from discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on color, race, national origin and religion, the act later extended to sex, disability and family status. This year’s commemoration occurred at a time when a global pandemic is threatening the health of millions and dramatically changing the ways in which we socialize, travel, shop, and even attend school. While there seems to be no end in sight, and how the pandemic will affect housing choices in the weeks and months to come is not yet known, there is no doubt that the potential exists for the fair housing and civil rights of certain individuals, particularly on the basis of race, national origin and disability, to be violated.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has already taken several steps to respond to discriminatory policies and practices associated with COVID-19. HUD recently issued guidance to its Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) and Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) partner agencies pertaining to their use of HUD funding to carry out Coronavirus-related enforcement activities and have additional guidance in the works. At the same time, HUD awarded more than $40 million in grants to FHIP and FHAP organizations, some of which will be used to support their efforts to combat housing discrimination that may occur as a result of the global pandemic. For more information on HUD resources related to the Covid-19 Pandemic, you can visit: https://www.hud.gov/coronavirus.
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) applauded recent steps taken HUD and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to assist homeowners affected by the COVID-19 crisis. NFHA commended the implementation of a moratorium on foreclosures and foreclosure-related evictions for at least 60 days as a good first step in helping provide some relief to consumers who are experiencing challenges and will help ensure that those who are unable to work as a result of this health crisis can maintain a roof over their heads for the time being. Of course, they contend, more needs to be done.
According to the NFHA, since the COVID-19 virus began its spread, there have been reports of increased discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and irrational acts of xenophobia. In addition, women are particularly susceptible to acts of sexual harassment from their landlords and other housing and financial services providers. The NFHA is calling for additional funding to address discrimination related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, they state, HUD should ensure that, now more than ever, there are multiple ways for people to submit complaints (e.g. via phone and online), that these complaints are addressed in a timely manner, that complaints are not dismissed due to statute of limitations issues related to the crisis, and that fair housing organizations are supported throughout and after the crisis.
The NFHA is calling for the implementation of a national rental assistance payment program; a moratorium on all negative credit reporting; a suspension of all evictions, including HUD-assisted housing facilities and programs; extended moratoria on foreclosures and foreclosure-related evictions; increased funding for the Disaster Housing Assistance Program and the Housing Choice Voucher Program; increased funding for Public Housing Authorities (PHAs); and other measures to provide support to people and communities affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The NFHA has a section on their website to provide information about the COVID-19 crisis, which can be found at: https://nationalfairhousing.org/covid-19/.
There is no doubt that the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus jeopardizes the lives and well-being of millions of people in the United States. Every measure must be taken to keep the public safe and stably housed to avoid further spread of the virus and to protect against the economic impact of a financial crisis of historic proportions. To help mitigate this negative impact, the NFHA is calling on government agencies to adopt and enforce policies to prohibit officials from associating COVID-19 with any particular geographic region, country or nationality. They also call on governmental agencies to ensure that they themselves, as well as the entities they fund, abide by all civil rights obligations and laws, including the Fair Housing Act, and ensure that all programs affirmatively further fair housing.