Housing Discrimination in Houston

Reports of housing discrimination are higher in Houston this year. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, officials are concerned that increase could be related to discrimination against hurricane evacuees.

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In fiscal year 2005, the Department of Housing and Urban Development processed 133 discrimination complaints in the Houston Metro Area. For the first half of fiscal year 2006, which started in October, the department has already recorded 94 complaints. If that rising trend continues, Houston's housing discrimination complaints could nearly double this year. HUD Fair Housing Assistant Secretary Kim Kendrick says the number of cases reported is probably a small percent of actual incidences of discrimination.

"It's across the country in various areas, race; disability, disability is now our highest ranked complaint we're getting from people. Of the 9,000 complaints we received in fiscal year 2005, 40 percent were from persons with disabilities."

But what could be a bigger problem in Houston, at least temporarily, is discrimination against hurricane evacuees. June 1st is the funding cutoff for evacuees still housed in hotels and shelters. Kendrick says HUD is preparing for additional discrimination complaints from evacuees seeking fair housing.

"Now we know what's going to happen is when people are moving out of the -- we understand June 1st will be the date a lot of people will move out of hotels and the FEMA funding will no longer be available. We will have at least 4,000 people looking for housing at the same time and the housing market is going to be tight. And so we expect what we'll see is that persons will -- that some people will be discriminated against and we'll have to be ready to deal with that issue."

The City of Houston and HUD are working to find adequate housing for the 4,000 people still in temporary shelters. But discrimination is something that happens behind the scenes. Dr. Edward Pringle is the HUD Field Office Director for Houston says there may be some housing providers who don't want to work with hurricane evacuees.

"Most people won't come and tell you that, they won't make that known. It's sort of a hidden fact because anybody dealing with housing, they know the law. They know that HUD -- what HUD stands for and Fair Housing, and that, you know, that won't be tolerated. So that won't openly come out. It's the education of our citizens that's very important in this aspect because many times people are discriminated against and they are not aware of it or they're afraid to say something about it."

Under the Fair Housing Act it is illegal to refuse housing to a person based on race, color, religion, disability, sex, familial status or national origin. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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