County Offers Fair Housing Training to Combat Rising Number of Housing Discrimination Cases
April 20, 2012
Housing discrimination cases have been on the rise in Fairfax County and the Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs (HREP), the agency that enforces fair housing laws in the county, is shining a spotlight on the problem at a fair housing training and luncheon for housing providers, realtors, community groups and other interested parties on Tuesday, April 24 at the Waterford at Fair Oaks.
This year the annual event, which is held during Fair Housing Month, is sponsored by HREP in collaboration with the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and the Equal Rights Center. The keynote speaker will be the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Thomas E. Perez. Jane C.W. Vincent with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will also speak at the event. Vincent is HUD’s Regional Administrator for the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Virginia and Fairfax County.
“Sadly, housing discrimination is alive and well and we’ve seen an uptick in complaints during the past six years,” said Ken Saunders, executive director of HREP. Although race remains an issue, Saunders reports that increasingly in recent years complaints received by his office are related to national origin or involve disability-related issues.
In contrast to national trends, discrimination based on nationality made up 22.6 percent of complaints to the county from 2006 to 2010. In comparison, only 9 percent of complaints to HUD fall under this category.
During the past decade, Fairfax County has become more diverse compared to surrounding jurisdictions like D.C. and Arlington County. Today, 48 percent of county residents are ethnic or racial minorities, and in 2009, one-third of new residents were immigrants.
When it comes to complaints related to disabilities, the problem matches state trends. In Fairfax County, these complaints accounted for 28.4 percent of cases from 2006 to 2010. Similarly, disability related discrimination comprised 27 percent of complaints to the Virginia Fair Housing Office in 2010.
When it comes to disability-related issues, the county’s housing stock may contribute in part to the problem. Three-quarters of the county’s housing was built prior to 1990. The Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to include disability as a protected class. Fair Housing Accessibility Requirements for new multi-family buildings did not go into effect until 1991, and so many of the existing structures were not originally built to meet modern-day requirements.
Although many cases may go unreported, conservatively there are four million incidents of housing discrimination in the U.S. per year, according to estimates by the National Fair Housing Alliance.
In addition to its education and outreach activities, HREP investigates and enforces fair housing laws through the Human Rights Commission. The agency also investigates complaints related to employment, public accommodations, education and credit.
Under the County’s Human Rights Ordinance, it is illegal to discriminate in housing based on
- National Origin
- Familial Status (families with children under the age of 18, or who are expecting a child)
- Disability (if you or someone close to you has a disability)
- Elderliness (age 55 or older)
- Marital Status
Information about the education and resources available and how to initiate a complaint can be obtained by calling the agency at 703-324-2953, TTY 711, or from the website at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/ohrep/.
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- Fair Housing: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/cable/channel16/asx/fair_housing_for_all.asx
- Fair Housing for the Seniors and Persons with Disabilities: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/cable/channel16/asx/fair_housing.asx