WASHINGTON — Federal housing authorities have failed to adequately enforce laws barring discrimination against the disabled as they seek places to live, an independent federal agency has concluded.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development ruled out discrimination in all but just 2.4 percent of more than 12,000 complaints between 1988 and 2000, says a report being released today.
By 2000, HUD was taking an average of nearly 14 months — more than four times the 100 days prescribed by law — to complete its investigations, the National Council of Disability found. The 74-day average achieved in 1989 was the only time HUD met the requirement.
The council concluded that HUD’s performance dramatically deteriorated over the dozen years.
"HUD has lost control of its own enforcement process," said the council, established to make policy recommendations to the president and Congress. "The promises of the fair housing laws have been empty for many Americans, with and without disabilities."
The 1968 Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to cover the disabled. As a result, federal law prohibits home sellers and apartment renters from turning away an applicant based on a disability and bans questions about the severity of that disability.
The law also mandates that apartment owners agree to reasonable changes to a unit to accommodate the disabled and requires developers to make most new apartment complexes accessible to the physically disabled. These aspects of the law are the basis of the vast majority of discrimination allegations made to HUD.
HUD spokeswoman Nancy Segerdahl acknowledged serious deficiencies, but said the 10-month-old Bush administration already has taken steps to make discrimination enforcement a top priority.
The share of cases over 100 days old already has dropped, to 40 percent of all types of cases in 2001 from 85 percent in 2000.
The report found that, by 2000, people with disabilities had become the largest group filing housing discrimination complaints with HUD — accounting for 42 percent of all claims.
Complaints from the disabled were investigated slightly faster, were more likely to be settled and were less likely to be dismissed than cases filed by people in other protected groups, the report found. But HUD investigators also were less likely to find discrimination probably occurred — and thus recommend further action — in disability cases than in others.
"People with disabilities have had a great deal of difficulty getting enforcement from HUD," said Dan Kessler, a board member of the National Council on Independent Living, which advocates for the disabled. "That whole process seems to have broken down."
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