Interview: Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is dealing with an evolving set of discrimination challenges facing families, changes in the very definition of "family," and the political realities of the 112th Congress. Trasviña is no stranger to this balancing act.

How can fair housing protections be extended to people based on their source of income? Why is it important, and how would that portion of the Home Act, introduced in the last Congress, be enforced?

As you know, source-of-income discrimination is not prohibited by the Fair Housing Act today, but we do have over a dozen states and local communities that have source-of-income discrimination [prohibited] under their laws. So while we do not have the federal authority to address source-of-income discrimination directly, what we have done is to make sure that, for jurisdictions that are violating their local laws, it becomes more difficult for them to get our support.

But more significant is that while source of income in itself is not a protected class, source-of-income discrimination is very often just a subterfuge and a pretext for race discrimination and family-based discrimination. When you see ads or notices or responses from landlords indicating “No Section 8,” is it source of income or is it race or family size? So we look behind any particular case to make sure that we’re able to address discrimination where it exists.

The Home Act will certainly be helpful not only by giving us the direct authority on source-of-income discrimination, but it would provide reassurances to people in communities everywhere that the federal government can address this and not have their rights based upon what state they may live in. We look forward to working with Congress on this and other civil rights legislation.

There are some concerns from small landlords who rely on rent for cash flow and who have argued that irregular or unreliable payments from social services offices make them unsafe sources of income for them to accept. What can be done to protect them without violating source-of-income non-discrimination rules? Is that something that’s being considered right now?

Everybody is sympathetic to cash flow issues, and if there are ways that we at fair housing, or through our counterparts at the Office of Public and Indian Housing, can address some of the administrative burdens that landlords may have, then certainly we will do that. But allowing discrimination is never an option.

You’ve publicly discussed discrimination against the LGBT community. What can we expect to see moving forward on that front?

On January 25, HUD issued a proposed rule that ensures we can carry out our mission to provide decent, safe, and suitable living environments/housing for all. This proposed rule makes HUD housing and programs open, irrespective of marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It also prohibits inquiries along those lines and bars FHA lenders from making loan determinations on those grounds. A number of states and local governments already have LGBT protections. They are ahead of the federal government in that regard. Here is another example where just examining the number of discrimination complaints misses the bigger picture. Some places have few complaints not because there is an absence of discrimination but because single-sex couples are effectively forced into hiding their identity or status to get a one bedroom apartment. Fundamentally, no American should have to hide his or her identity in order to live where he or she would like to live.

There are some serious concerns regarding the Public Housing Reinvestment and Tenant Protection Act of 2010, including those related to local jurisdiction veto power when it comes to the location of low-income units.

Jurisdictions have the right to determine where low-income housing units are located, but those types of decisions must be done in a way that is consistent with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. In Saint Bernard Parish near New Orleans, for instance, several ordinances restricting the availability of multifamily housing were enacted after Hurricane Katrina that limited rental housing opportunities for African Americans. HUD and local fair housing partner the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center have been involved to address these actions, and recently we have seen the Parish take action to permit construction of 288 units of multifamily housing.

1 COMMENT

  1. We are looking for information on the 12 HUD funded section 3 regional coordinators.This group was funded at the tune of six-hundred thousand to coordinate all section 3 covered recipients/developer that receive LIHTC/HOME assist.

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