The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration have been ordered to stop tracking the racial and ethnic characteristics of Americans who receive many of the benefits from the two agencies.
The information, gathered on several HUD forms and VA loan insurance applications, is used to discover and correct discrimination in public and other housing programs.
The orders were issued by the Office of Management and Budget, which disapproved sections of the HUD and VA loan guarantee applications that asked for racial and ethnic information, several other forms in their entirety and portions of other forms that HUD uses to collect data for administering civil rights and fair housing programs.
The OMB action is part of a massive attack on civil rights efforts in housing, according to a HUD official, who asked not to be identified.
Edwin L. Dale Jr., the assistant director for public affairs at OMB, said yesterday the reasons for halting the collection of the data "are very complicated." He said one form "was deemed excessively burdensome" to public housing workers required to fill them out, while others "were not consistent with HUD's own program." He added that the racial and ethnic information collected on the loan guarantee applications "was duplicative," but said he could not give details. "There are lots of racial data collections that we approve across the government . . . from the census on down," Dale said.
The Veterans Administration was told by OMB that the information it asked for on its loan-guarantee applications could be obtained elsewhere, according to George D. Moerman, assistant director for loan policy for the VA. "I don't know where we could get it. Perhaps we could, but I don't know," he said.
Antonio Monroig, assistant secretatry of HUD for fair housing and equal opportunity, said his department "will have to get new ways" to gather racial and ethnic information, but he added, "we don't know yet what ways."
The OMB order has provoked an angry warning from Capitol Hill that Congress "would consider legislation that would require the administration to continue this data-gathering operation on the racial makeup of housing." Jerry McMurry, staff director for the housing subcommittee of the House Banking Committee, said the Reagan administration "would rather not know . . . racial composition of their programs" so it cannot be challenged on its poor civil rights record.
The lack of the information the VA gathers "will put us in the position, where if abuse exists, we will not be able to find it," said Moerman. The agency uses the racial and ethnic data it collects on its loan guarantee application forms "as a monitoring device" to determine who is getting VA benefits, he said. If an imbalance becomes apparent "we would have to take steps to try to reverse it."
Moerman said the VA has not decided whether to appeal the OMB decision.
The OMB decisions "will definitely cut down on the data we will collect [and] it certainly will have an effect" on HUD programs, said Monroig. "How extensive the effect will be, we are not quite sure yet."
HUD was told it can no longer require monthly rental and sales reports from FHA-insured homes and apartment buildings, including assisted housing as well as houses purchased with federal loan guarantees. The forms are required monthly until 90 percent of the units are occupied in the case of multifamily buildings and on a one-time basis when single family homes are sold.
The information is needed so that HUD can "carry out its Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing program" and its "civil rights responsibilities," said Peter Kaplan, director of program standards and evaluation in HUD's fair housing and equal opportunity office. HUD appealed the OMB rejection last fall, and has not received a decision, he added.
OMB also rejected a section of another form used for reporting racial and ethnic characteristics of applicants for and occupants of housing in connection with the Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing program.
HUD also asked for approval of a form to be used for a one-time collection of information "from all assisted and all public housing managers and owners . . . that would enable us to determine information about individual buildings and identify which buildings share sites," Kaplan said. This information "is important for us to determine all kinds of things."
Data collected in these reports would have shown the race of occupants of individual buildings in public and assisted housing projects and where those buildings were located, he said.
One HUD worker said the department needed this kind of information to spot patterns of discrimation like those in Texas public housing projects where blacks and whites live in separate buildings in different parts of the communities, a situation reported recently by The Dallas Morning News. Without data that showed the race of the occupants in individual buildings and where the buildings are located, HUD reports could not indicate that racial balance existed in a project.