The District government needs to more aggressively test and enforce housing discrimination law because bias still prevents equal access, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
After years of education and outreach, landlords continue to refuse to rent to African Americans, builders are erecting apartments that are not accessible to the disabled and few subsidized housing units can be found west of Rock Creek Park, said the report compiled by a commission advisory committee.
The report, “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing in the District of Columbia,” also urged the city to conduct random testing to make sure rentals, sales, mortgage lending and insurance are free from discrimination.
“More testing of housing providers is one critical step needed to identify and then respond to persistent discrimination in the local housing market,” said Roberta Achtenberg, a member of the Civil Rights Commission and a former assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Although the city has made progress in removing obstacles to fair housing, as the law requires, “we think in the future the District has to focus much more on outcome or results-oriented measures, and less on process,” said Gregory D. Squires, another member of the commission. “They’ve done a lot of education and outreach. We think they need to do more aggressive, investigative type work.”
For example, renters who are using federal housing vouchers can use a city Web site, dchousingsearch.org, to find affordable housing. In December, the site listed 544 rental units, but not one was west of Rock Creek Park, an affluent and predominantly white area of the city, the report said. The D.C. Human Rights Act prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to a tenant because he or she wants to pay with government vouchers, although studies over the past five years show it happens often.
“That’s almost like a red flag when there are so few [voucher-eligible units] in that big chunk of the city,” Squires said.
In addition, the report said the city has failed to assure that new apartment buildings are accessible to the disabled. Forty-eight percent of the housing complaints recorded by the city’s Office of Human Rights between 2002 and 2010 were based on disability issues.
The report also said the city insufficiently monitors bank data to be sure the companies are not discriminating in loan origination or foreclosure practices.
That prompted responses from two city agencies. Nicholas A. Majett, director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said his office was not aware of any building permits issued either by city officials or certified third-party inspectors that did not meet accessibility requirements.
William P. White, the acting commissioner of the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, noted that historically the District and all the states are barred from exercising regulatory authority over federally chartered banks, although the city monitors the activities of lenders through third-party reports. The city recently began a program which requires lenders to offer homeowners the option of mediation before foreclosures can begin.
The Equal Rights Center, a national non-profit agency that conducts the kind of undercover investigations of discrimination that the committee encouraged, said in a statement that “more than a dozen ERC surveys conducted in recent years documented multiple accessibility violations at every property.”