Menus Subscribe Search

ProPublica

dallas-city

Dallas City Hall. (PHOTO: <a href=

Is the Federal Government Finally Going to Do Something About Housing Discrimination?

• December 18, 2013 • 2:00 PM

Dallas City Hall. (PHOTO: <a href=

After decades of inaction, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has begun to move against two localities for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has accused Dallas, one of the nation’s largest cities, of violating civil rights law through housing practices that discriminated against black, Latino, and disabled residents.

HUD officials laid out the results of a four-year investigation in a letter sent to city leaders late last month. HUD found that Dallas, which accepted tens of millions in federal dollars with promises of using that money to help integrate the deeply divided city, had instead “subjected persons to segregation” and “restricted access to housing choice.” The city, the letter said, had denied local residents opportunities to participate in housing programs “because of race, national origin and disability.”

The agency has given the city 30 days to respond to the accusations, which jeopardize millions in annual HUD funding.

HUD’s new efforts have caught the attention of major housing industry players who have long opposed heightened fair housing enforcement.

HUD’s findings against the country’s 9th largest city cap a year that has seen some of the most substantial developments in federal fair housing enforcement in years. As ProPublica documented in a series that ran late last year, the federal government has spent the last 45 years largely neglecting provisions of the Fair Housing Act that require it to take affirmative steps to eradicate housing segregation. The chief way to do that has been to cut off federal funds to communities that act in ways that maintain or increase housing segregation. But HUD never did.

When President Obama came into office, the nation’s top housing officials vowed to change that. “Until now, we tended to lay dormant,” Ron Sims, HUD’s then deputy secretary said in August of 2009. “This is historic, because we are going to hold people’s feet to the fire.”

Still, little improved during Obama’s first term. That appears to be changing.

While HUD may not have turned into the raging Goliath that activists had hoped, the giant is stirring.

This year, HUD released a proposed regulation that for the first time clearly defined the steps local and state governments that receive HUD funding must take to show they are complying with the Fair Housing Act. Advocates have waited decades for HUD to issue the rule, which was shelved by the Clinton Administration in the face of objections from counties and cities.

Earlier this year, HUD also released a long-awaited regulation formalizing a national standard for when housing practices violate civil rights law by disproportionately harming racial minorities, the disabled, and other protected groups.

HUD’s history has been dominated by its deference to the cities and towns it funnels billions of dollars to—even those sued by the U.S. Department of Justice and those found guilty by federal judges of violating civil rights. When outside parties have alerted HUD to the ways government officials have discriminated through building and zoning—such as in the landmark Westchester County, New York, fair housing case that settled in 2009—HUD has been reticent to take serious steps.

That’s why the Dallas findings could be big.

Similar to the Westchester case, HUD was alerted to the possible wrongdoing of Dallas officials by a whistleblower, in this case a developer who’d had affordable housing blocked in a downtown district that is white and affluent. The developer, Curtis Lockey, accused Dallas officials of conspiring to keep black, Latino, and disabled residents out of downtown. Lockey filed a complaint with HUD in February 2010.

HUD refused to get involved with the Westchester case until a federal judge overseeing the case began lambasting HUD for its failures to enforce the Fair Housing Act. But Dallas was different—HUD investigated and confirmed Lockey’s accusations.

Dallas officials deny wrongdoing. “The City complies with HUD guidelines and regulations in its work with affordable housing projects,” said a Dallas spokesperson in a statement.

Before this year no locality had ever lost its HUD dollars over failures to comply with civil rights laws. But this fall, HUD stripped $7.4 million in federal development grants from Westchester County for failing to comply with the Fair Housing Act.

HUD’s new efforts have caught the attention of major housing industry players who have long opposed heightened fair housing enforcement. The American Banker published a piece questioning whether the agency’s hiring of a former National Fair Housing Alliance staffer to handle enforcement represents a conflict of interest. (HUD says there was no conflict.) By the time the article ran, the HUD official in question, had been heading fair housing enforcement for more than three years.


This post originally appeared on ProPublica, a Pacific Standard partner site.

Nikole Hannah-Jones
Nikole Hannah-Jones joined ProPublica in late 2011 and covers civil rights with a focus on segregation and discrimination in housing and schools. Her 2012 coverage of federal failures to enforce the landmark 1968 Fair Housing Act won several awards, including Columbia University’s Tobenkin Award for distinguished coverage of racial or religious discrimination.

More From Nikole Hannah-Jones

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Moly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


September 17 • 10:00 AM

Pulling Punches: Why Sports Leagues Treat Most Offenders With Leniency

There’s a psychological explanation for the weak punishment given to Ray Rice before a video surfaced that made a re-evaluation unavoidable.


September 17 • 9:44 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Portlandia Is Dying

Build an emerald city. Attract the best and brightest with glorious amenities. They will come and do nothing.



September 17 • 8:00 AM

Why Don’t We Have Pay Toilets in America?

Forty years ago, thanks to an organization founded by four high school friends, human rights beat out the free market—and now we can all pee for free.


September 17 • 6:32 AM

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists’ appetites.


September 17 • 6:00 AM

The Grateful Dig: An Archaeologist Excavates a Tie-Dyed Modern Stereotype

What California’s senior state archaeologist discovered in the ruins of a hippie commune.


September 17 • 4:00 AM

The Strong Symbolic Power of Emptying Pockets

Researchers find the symbolic act of emptying a receptacle can impact our behavior, and not for the better.


September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


September 16 • 2:00 PM

Man Up, Ladies! … But Not Too Much

Too often, women are asked to display masculine traits in order to be successful in the workplace.



September 16 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Brilliant 12-Year-Old?

Charles Wang is going to rule the world.


Follow us


How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.