Today, the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity of the House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing to discuss H.R. 476, the Housing Fairness Act of 2009 (the Act). The purposes of the Act include authorizing funds to prevent housing discrimination through the use of nationwide testing and to increase funds for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program. Testifying before the subcommittee were:

Panel 1:

  • John Trasvina, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

Panel 2:

  • Shanna L. Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Fair Housing Alliance/Co-Chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Fair Housing Task Force
  • Leslie Proll, Director, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc./Co-Chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Fair Housing Task Force
  • David Berenbaum, Chief Program Officer, National Community Reinvestment Coalition
  • Jeanne McGlynn Delgado, Vice President, Business and Risk Management Policy, National Multi-Housing Council/National Apartment Association
  • Brian Gilmore, Director, Fair Housing Clinic, Howard University School of Law

Mr. Transvina expressed support for the Act, noting that, although HUD received over 10,000 housing-discrimination complaints in 2008, that is not a full measure of the current level of housing discrimination, which he estimated to be approximately 4 million violations per year. The question and answer period began with Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) criticizing both the substance and the timeliness of HUD’s response to housing violations in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Subcommittee member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) asked who was the subject of, and what are the reasons for, the most instances of housing discrimination. Mr. Transvina responded that the single largest amount of complaints received involve disabilities, due in many cases to inadequate understanding of a landlord or seller’s obligations. Subcommittee member Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) inquired about HUD’s efforts to better inform non-proficient English speakers about their housing rights. Mr. Transvina noted that HUD has translated and posted key HUD documents to its website in 15 languages. Later, Mr. Transvina agreed with subcommittee member Al Green (D-TX) that testing is the best way to determine discrimination and that persons who discriminate fear testing. Mr. Transvina remarked that the desired result of nationwide testing is to determine how much housing discrimination exists and to educate consumers about their housing rights and landlords and sellers about their housing obligations.

All members of Panel 2 supported nationwide testing to prevent housing discrimination, with the exception of Ms. Delgado, representing the National Multi-Housing Council/National Apartment Association. Ms. Delgado, noting that testing in its current form yields results that can vary widely, recommended that before instituting more testing, HUD should (i) measure the current test results, (ii) consider alternatives to current testing, and (iii) expand education of housing rights and obligations. Later, Mr. Berenbaum appealed to the subcommittee to increase the amount of funding under the Act and stated that the $20,000,000 annual provision for housing discrimination testing is a “drop in the bucket.”