Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fair Housing Enforcement Problem: Unwarranted Hidden Nature of Fair Housing Concilliation Agreements and Settlements.

An Oregonian PolitiFact story HERE focuses on the overstatement by the BOLI Commissioner of the number of fair housing complaints processed by BOLI. The story also indicated 
"67 complaints were settled privately, between the parties, or settled at agency prompting. Of the 67 cases, 31 included monetary exchanges totaling almost $160,000. The amounts ranged from $500 to $20,000. It’s not all technically "damages," but it is money that probably would not have gone to complainants without intervention by the agency, he said. As for the money, Estabrook said he couldn’t release dates or other details, because some of the information may be confidential or not easily available. But he said 67 complaints were settled privately, between the parties, or settled at agency prompting."
That reminded me of recent research I had done after reviewing the FY 2010 HUD Annual Fair Housing Report HERE

Some observations:
  1. On PDF page 31 a graph shows that 33% of cases were settled or conciliated. Applying that percentage to the graph on PDF page 30 that shows the total closed cases at 10,017, means that there were 3,306 cases that were settled or conciliated in FY 2010.
  2. I cannot find on HUD's web site any database of conciliation agreements . (A handful of Consent and Conciliation agreements are posted with press releases HERE). This means for virtually ALL 3,300+ conciliated and settled FY 2010 cases there there has been NO HUD public disclosure.
  3. In HUD's FY 2012 Congressional Justification for the FHAP program HERE there is an indication that $6.5 million was recovered by FHAP agencies in FY 2010, but as the Oregonian story and HUD web site demonstrates, there is virtually NO public information available on the local details of those recoveries.
  4. There is clearly NO generalized prohibition against disclosure of conciliation agreements and instead there is a bias toward disclosure. This is from the Conciliation Agreement Chapter 11 of HUD's Title VIII Complaint Intake, Investigation, and Conciliation Handbook (8024.01):
24 C.F.R. Section 103.330(b) of the Act’s implementing regulations provides that conciliation agreements shall be made public unless:
  • The complainant and the respondent in writing both request nondisclosure; and
  • The Assistant Secretary for FHEO determines that disclosure is not required to further the purposes of the Act.
Suggested Corrective Action: 
If the cost of resolution of Fair Housing complaints is intended to act as a deterrent to future discrimination the near COMPLETE absence of public information of the details of the recoveries resulting from 3,300+ conciliation agreements and private settlements is troubling.   

To serve that deterrence purpose:
  • HUD should publish a complete searchable database of conciliation agreements, so that recoveries can be tracked down to the local level and the protected class.  
  • For those exception cases where the HUD FHEO Secretary determines disclosure is not required, personal information, including recoveries, should be redacted but the location of the resolution and the protected class and tenure information should NOT be redacted from the database.
Originally created and posted on the Oregon Housing Blog.

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