Former HUD officials call for a fair housing agency

Two former Cabinet secretaries have called for the creation of an independent agency to enforce fair housing, which they say is getting short shrift in the Housing and Urban Development Department.

Former HUD chiefs Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros co-chaired a panel that led a six-month investigation into the state of fair housing nationwide. The panel -- called the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity -- on Tuesday released a report with recommendations for improving the system. "HUD is in the awkward position of policing its own programs and partners," said Clinton HUD Secretary Cisneros, citing the need for a separate entity to oversee fair housing. "There is a built-in conflict in the present structure." Cisneros appeared at the Washington briefing with other panel members. Kemp, who served during the George H.W. Bush administration, was unable to attend the event.

Under the proposal, the new enforcement agency would replace HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, which is led by a politically appointed assistant secretary who oversees about 600 employees. The new entity would focus solely on fair housing enforcement and education as well as ethical lending practices. The panel said this agency should have three key components: career staff with experience and competence in fair housing; an advisory commission of stakeholders appointed by the president with input from the Senate; and adequate staff and resources. "Such an agency would be empowered at the public policy level to work with the HUD secretary to advance proactively all of the fair housing issues that are critical to building stronger communities," the report's executive summary stated.

The mortgage crisis, spurred by predatory lending and the rapid growth of the sub-prime mortgage market, led to the bailout of the financial industry and was a major cause of the current economic chaos. These events have put housing issues at the forefront of the national policy agenda, with fair housing an important component of the overall economic recovery plan, the panel said. "For years -- for years -- the civil rights communities have been warning about predatory lending and sub-prime mortgages," said commission member Okianer Christian Dark, associate dean of academic affairs and a professor at Harvard University's law school. Many victims of predatory lending and recipients of sub-prime mortgages are minorities, senior citizens and members of the disabled community. The Fair Housing Act outlawed discrimination in housing under Title VIII of the 1968 Civil Rights Act. According to the report, there are at least 4 million fair housing violations annually in the country.

Cisneros and other panel members acknowledged the inherent red tape and political tension in creating a government entity and have proposed an interim measure. They advised HUD to divide the current Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity into two units, separating enforcement from program compliance. Under the proposal, the Office of Fair Housing, led by a deputy secretary, would administer enforcement and education initiatives and include investigative staff and lawyers, handle rapid response to urgent cases and improve training and quality assurance in investigations. An assistant secretary would lead the Office of Civil Rights and retain program compliance responsibilities for fair housing. A third office, the President's Fair Housing Council, would work with both divisions.

Cisneros said on Tuesday that the department's record on fair housing was not "stellar" during his tenure and the issue traditionally has taken "a fifth wheel role" in HUD operations in both Democratic and Republican administrations. The office is "frequently a source of annoyance" for the rest of the department, he said, because its enforcement and compliance roles often pit it against HUD's traditional partners in industry, advocacy and government.

Kim Kendrick, assistant secretary of fair housing and equal opportunity, issued a statement on Tuesday defending the department's commitment to enforcing the law, and noting that HUD is on the "same team" as the commission when it comes to ending housing discrimination and promoting diversity. But Kendrick did not address the report's specific recommendations, including the proposal to create an independent fair housing agency.

HUD files charges regularly against groups and individuals violating fair housing laws. Many of the court documents are available on the department's Web site. Kendrick, confirmed in 2005, has streamlined the complaint process and raised awareness of the need for accessible housing for people with disabilities.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.