The National Fair Housing Alliance and MoveSmart.org, in conjunction with the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance and based on the feedback of a wide number of fair housing organizations around the country, has put together a list of 10 technical recommendations for HUD in general and FHEO in particular. While some of these recommendations have been adopted in part since this list was first released in early January the majority have yet to be addressed. We strongly urge HUD to adopt all of the below recommendations.
1. HUD should require that all Analyses of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, Fair Housing Action Plans, and other fair housing-related documents required by CDBG recipients be posted online for public review and comment before jurisdictions adopt them. All comments provided online should be placed in the public record, as well as all final versions of the Analyses and Plans.
Congress requires CDBG recipients to identify impediments, develop effective strategies to overcome impediments to fair housing and implement these strategies as a condition of receiving funding. The public must have a legitimate opportunity to comment on the sufficiency of these vital but often ignored documents. To guarantee this opportunity for review and comment, HUD should require that entitlement jurisdictions make these documents available in a public forum, such as the Apps.gov-approved UserVoice.com. Following the comment period, all comments should be archived online in a publicly available, non-proprietary, machine readable format. Although HUD should not necessarily host each and every document, it should create and maintain a centralized listing of all documents in a standardized, non-proprietary format (GeoRSS, RSS, Atom, or XML) that includes the name of the entitlement jurisdiction, a descriptive narrative of the geographic region the document covers, the date the document was posted, and the location at which comments can be submitted.
This approach will afford HUD monitors and the public the ability to identify deficiencies in Analyses of Impediments, and allow HUD to assess how responsive municipalities are to the comments submitted. Requiring that these documents be posted online in participatory forums will increase transparency, accountability, and public participation in the development of these plans for CDBG recipients.
2. All HUD fair housing-related regulations should be posted online. HUD should provide a transparent forum for receiving and archiving comments on those regulations.
The federal government can use technology to increase public participation surrounding proposed regulations beyond commenting on items posted in the Federal Register. Although we applaud the recent decision to publish the Federal Register online in a machine readable format, posting fair housing-related regulations online will empower individuals and organizations to offer comments on proposed regulations through multiple avenues.
The White House has taken the lead on this effort through its innovative "Open for Questions" feature, and the aforementioned UserVoice.com is specifically designed to receive and organize these types of comments. Additionally, HUD should use all of its various web and social media outlets to encourage public participation in this process. Rather than simply adding a link to its website, HUD should promote participation on websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.
3. HUD should create an electronic data collection system for Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) and Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) recipients so performance data can be aggregated and reported to Congress and be available to others.
Currently, HUD requires fair housing grantees to submit paper copies of spreadsheets detailing enforcement activities and progress towards program goals. This process has left HUD unable to respond to Congressional demands for detailed statistics about the work these programs fund. Electronic submission of reports would provide HUD with easily accessible data that support funding the important work of these programs.
This system should be developed in conjunction with current and past grantees and the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) to ensure that it is both responsive to their needs and captures appropriate information. HUD should work with private fair housing organizations to make available appropriate aggregate information that can be gleaned from these reports. Additionally, HUD should clearly designate that all information related to ongoing investigations and fair housing investigative techniques be designated as confidential, be treated as they are currently treated as part of Final Investigative Reports, and not provided online nor in response to FOIA requests.
4. HUD should accept fair housing complaints online and provide both complainants and Fair Housing Organizations with access to its specific complaint filing(s) using a tracking API (application programming interface).
Currently, housing seekers can file fair housing inquiries with HUD online but are required to complete multiple additional steps that create a paper trail in order to have a complaint officially filed. Research repeatedly identifies housing discrimination as being dramatically underreported. The ability to file and track a complaint online will encourage both the increased reporting of fair housing violations and follow through on complaints. This complaint process should be streamlined and the entire process - completing the HUD 903 form and attaching documents - should be available through www.HUD.gov. Complainants should have the ability to track their complaint status through a public-facing HUD webpage, much like they can track their banking online. In addition, Fair Housing Organizations should be able to synchronize their internal databases with HUD's complaint tracking system to receive automatic updates on the status of complaints they have filed on behalf of their clients.
5. HUD should require that affirmative marketing plans and efforts to affirmatively further fair housing include online components.
According to the National Association of Realtors and the National Multi Housing Council, the overwhelming majority of both renters and buyers begin their housing search online. In this new marketing environment, HUD must focus its fair housing resources where they will be most useful. HUD needs to increase the amount of fair housing information available on the web. Specifically, HUD should:
-Require that affirmative marketing plans for HUD-funded properties include an online marketing component. Far too many projects “affirmatively market” by simply placing one print ad in a newspaper that serves a diverse community. Some project simply place a “For Rent” sign in front of the building, which completely fails to reach people “least likely to apply,” as the advertising limits knowledge of availability to those people living in the neighborhood or driving by it. This approach does not attract a truly diverse set of buyers or renters. Rather, recipients of HUD funds should be compelled to market available properties via the web to those demographics least likely to buy or rent them. In addition, many low and moderate income people do not have access to the Internet on a daily basis, but do read local newspapers. HUD funded developments should be required to run a series of print advertisement in media that reaches those people defined as “least likely to apply.”
-Require FHIP, FHAP, and CDBG recipients to provide fair housing information online. While HUD should encourage innovation and creativity in this requirement, potential activities could include offering neighborhood search tools that encourage people to consider housing in diverse neighborhood by describing the benefits of residential integration, streaming fair housing training and education sessions online, advertising housing listing websites, and/or creating online complaint submission forms and self-help guides.
6. HUD should build a database and API of affordable and accessible housing locations and availability of units.
Currently, families searching for affordable and accessible housing, counselors working with eligible families, and those advocating for the creation of new affordable housing developments are frustrated with the lack of information on the availability and accessibility of existing units and units under development.
HUD should create a single database of all affordable housing developments that details their accessibility and compel managers to keep availability information current as a condition of receiving funding. Local advocates, housing counselors and home seekers could use this database to efficiently locate available affordable housing throughout the regions in which they work and assist their clients in making moves that may not have previously seemed possible.
7. HUD should create a national transit data API as part of the Sustainable Communities Initiative.
The two goals of the Fair Housing Act are to eliminate housing discrimination and promote residential integration. One of the primary goals of the Sustainable Communities Initiative is to encourage housing seekers to consider the cost of transportation as they make decisions about where to live. Yet, housing seekers, counselors, and advocates are unable to compare the relative cost and time of commuting to and from neighborhoods because public transit data is not shared in a uniform format and is not available in a common location.
To remedy this problem, HUD should collaborate with the Department of Transportation to create a national API for public transit cost and routing data, which would in turn encourage families to consider neighborhoods that they may otherwise overlook. For example, in Chicago if a family wished to live within a 30 minute commute via public transit of a job downtown (the Loop), there are a wide variety of diverse neighborhoods for them to choose from – but right now there is no way to search for these options based on this factor. Chicago has multiple public transportation networks, including PACE buses, the Chicago Transit Authority’s trains and buses, and Metra’s regional commuter trains. A national transit API would share transportation data from each of these disparate systems in a common format and empower this family to enter its work address and desired commute time, and then get back a list of all of the diverse communities that fall within these parameters.
8. HUD should provide funding to FHIP recipients to increase their technology skills and capabilities by ensuring that every employee has access to an Internet-connected computer and that all agencies have a presence on the web.
The FHIP program funds many of the QFHOs that process fair housing complaints. In 2008, the 100 QFHOs in the country processed 20,173 complaints, or 66% of all fair housing complaints. These groups provide vital enforcement and education services to their communities. They provide the first critical review of a fair housing alleging through client intake, testing and investigation. They weed frivolous claims and determine which complaints require further investigation, conciliation, or litigation. In order to increase private groups' efficiency and enable them to harness technology to become better partners, HUD should include technological funding in FHIP funds to those grantees that need to increase their capacity to work online. These grants should empower QFHOs with the flexibility to provide additional training for current staff, hire IT subcontractors, participate in the VISTA Transmission Project, or otherwise address their technical needs.
9. HUD should publish all Administrative Law Judge decisions and all HUD charges in a non-proprietary, machine-readable format.
QFHOs investigating individuals and companies for potential fair housing violations must learn whether or not a respondent has a history of fair housing violations. This history is catalogued in legal decisions, ALJ decisions, and HUD/FHAP complaints and charges. Unfortunately, these sources of invaluable information are not as readily available as they ought to be. Some HUD regional offices are currently publishing decisions on the web in .pdf formats, electronically scanning hard copies of documents. The resulting PDFs do not have searchable text, making it impossible for interested parties to search a database of these decisions or cut-and-paste pertinent sections of decisions or charges into their own documents. This needlessly results in many recipients of HUD funds having to manually search the entirety of the text of important ALJ decisions and HUD charges and to re-type the content, wasting their valuable time and resources.
10. HUD should publish quarterly data on the number of complaints filed both with the agency and through grantees, broken down by HUD region, protected class, type of violation, zip code, and census tract.
This data should be posted online in a non-proprietary, consistent, and machine-readable format and publicized via all HUD's web outlets. Currently, HUD is publishing data long after it is collected, making it difficult to spot emerging trends and impossible for fair housing organizations to quickly respond to new forms and concentrations of discrimination. While this data should be published online, it is critical that HUD designate any and all information related to ongoing investigations and investigative strategies as private, neither publishing it to the web nor providing it in response to FOIA requests.
11. HUD should put all of its HUDUser.gov data into Data.gov and standardize the metadata.
Data.gov is increasingly becoming a useful, one-stop shop for those seeking government data, but in the nine months since it was launched, HUD has not posted a single data set to this repository. HUD must take advantage of this forum in order to make it easier for researchers, advocates, and innovators to access and use HUD data effectively and efficiently.