"Report Faults HUD Role in Anti-Bias Enforcement"
                Copyright 1993 The Washington Post
The Washington Post

                   January 16, 1993, Saturday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 700 words

HEADLINE:  Report Faults HUD Role  In Anti-Bias Enforcement;
Panel Calls Backlog of Complaints 'Crippling'

SERIES: Occasional

BYLINE: Ann Mariano, Washington Post Staff Writer


    Federal enforcement of laws forbidding discrimination in
housing "has stumbled badly" over the last two years, mostly
because of government officials' "ineffective leadership, poor
organization and mismanagement," according to a report issued
this week.

   The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights said "most of the
blame" lies with the Department of Housing and Urban

   HUD's enforcement, the commission said, "has all but
collapsed" at national and regional levels, resulting in "a
crippling backlog of complaints and an inability to win
significant damage awards for victims."

   The commission, made up of former civil rights officials,
was formed in 1982  in response to what its members said was
lax federal enforcement of anti-bias  laws.

   The report on housing bias, written by John R. Relman of the
Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban
Affairs, is part of the commission's findings in examining
discrimination throughout the nation.

   In evaluating reports of bias, HUD found "reasonable cause"
to believe that discrimination had taken place in only about 2
percent of the total complaints the department has received
since the newest fair housing law went into effect March 12,
1989, the commission said.

   "This result is surprising given HUD's own recent testing
studies that show discrimination occurring at rates of 50
[percent] and 60 percent" of the time when Americans seek
housing, the panel said.

   This finding resulted from nationwide testing conducted for
the department by the Urban Institute in 1991. When tests are
made, two people with similar characteristics and the same
income levels apply to rent the same apartments or  houses, and
then compare their experiences.

   HUD is required by law to keep a record of the housing
discrimination complaints it receives, including the types of
bias reported and the result of  the department's
investigation. Its records show that Americans reported 4,457
incidents of housing discrimination in 1990.

   But HUD reported that half the complaints, an
extraordinarily high number, were withdrawn because the people
who complained could not be found or HUD lacked jurisdiction to
investigate, the commission said.

   Of the reports the agency did investigate, HUD found
"reasonable cause" to believe that bias occurred in only 11.7
percent of the cases. The number and types of complaints filed
with HUD in 1991 and 1992 have not been reported.

   The commission urged HUD Secretary-designate Henry Cisneros
to review the department's handling of housing bias complaints
and investigations, as well as  to "demand a public accounting
from each regional HUD office" as to why so few bias reports
result in prosecution.

   The Justice Department received higher marks for its
efforts. It "has continued to make steady, albeit modest
progress" in pursuing housing rights violations, but its
efforts have been hampered by inadequate staff and funding,
the report said.

    The department's caseload has more than tripled in the last
two years, but the number of attorneys, 37, has remained the
same. Bias victims can choose whether to have their complaints
investigated by HUD or by the Justice Department, and in about
60 percent of the cases the victims ask that Justice handle
their cases. In these instances the department must file suits
against the people or companies accused of bias.

   By contrast, HUD decided that the only complaint it handled
in 1990 should be forwarded to Justice for prosecution.

   The commission urged the incoming Clinton administration to
"convene a White  House summit on housing issues" to explore
possible creation of a federal Fair Housing Commission to
coordinate anti-discrimination enforcement throughout the

   In another recommendation, the commission said a recent
federal court ruling  that homeowners' insurance companies are
covered by fair housing laws creates another need.

   The new administration "should initiate legislation
requiring the insurance industry to meet the same type of
disclosure requirements that lending institutions have long
been required to satisfy under the Community Reinvestment Act
and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act," the commission said.