Opinion: Know your fair housing rights

Veronica Parra / SCAD-Atlanta

Veronica Parra / SCAD-Atlanta

This year’s Fair Housing Month commemoration occurs at a time when everyone’s daily lives have seemingly been turned upside down by an international health crisis unlike any the world has experienced in recent history.

How the pandemic will affect housing choices in the weeks and months ahead is not yet known, however the potential exists for the fair housing and civil rights of certain individuals, particularly on the basis of race, national origin, and disability, to be violated.

This month HUD has declared, “Call HUD, Because Sexual Harassment in Housing is Illegal”, the theme for Fair Housing Month 2020. The goal is to increase the department’s efforts to better educate the public on what behaviors constitute sexual harassment and what to do/who to contact if people experience it in their communities.

As the HUD Regional Administrator for the Southeastern Region, when we hear these stories come into our office, we take action, as no one should have to endure sexual harassment and degrading treatment in order to keep a roof over their head.

Last year, HUD and the Justice Department launched a nationwide joint initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing by increasing the public’s awareness of the issue and encouraging the reporting of harassment. The Justice Department has filed over a dozen lawsuits alleging sexual harassment in housing since the joint HUD/Justice Department initiative was launched.

HUD also launched a special campaign and training initiative to help protect people from harassment by landlords, property managers, and maintenance workers in HUD-assisted housing. Through this initiative, HUD and its partner organizations obtained over $1 million in relief for nearly 130 survivors and victims’ funds over the past two years.

We know that this outreach works. We’ve heard stories from some complainants stating they were unaware this kind of harassment was illegal and that they could go to HUD for help.

HUD remains committed to helping all those who face housing discrimination because of how they look, where they come from, their sex, religion, family status, or disability, as well as those being threatened with eviction because they are unaware of their fair housing rights.

If anyone believes they have experienced discrimination, including sexual harassment in housing, they can file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to hud.gov/fair housing.

Denise Cleveland-Leggett is the HUD regional administrator for the southeastern region that includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.