SEATTLE – Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee, issued the following statement regarding President Obama’s new Fair Housing rule announced on Wednesday:
“In light of President Obama’s new rule to strengthen fair housing practices and help end racial segregation in neighborhoods, we should take a deep look at where we are in Seattle relative to housing discrimination and how this impacts all communities. It’s imperative that we embrace this new Federal change, which requires cities to be more proactive in creating inclusive neighborhoods and building affordable housing in higher-income cities. I’m especially hopeful for the future in that this new rule was issued the same year the U.S. Supreme Court rejected (5-4 vote) a change to weaken the Fair Housing Act of 1968, considered one of the most important civil rights laws during the civil rights movement.”
The City has already taken steps to address housing discrimination in Seattle. In December of 2010, Councilmember Harrell and Councilmember Tim Burgess directed Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) to conduct an audit of rental housing practices in Seattle to determine whether landlords were discriminating against potential tenants. The stated goal was to improve enforcement of these critical laws. The 2011 audit focused on African-Americans and people with disabilities and found that 55% of the attempts showed evidence of unlawful discrimination.
In 2013, Councilmember Harrell was the lead sponsor to add another $50,000 in the 2014 budget to continue enforcement of the housing discrimination laws. In 2014, the audit’s scope expanded to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and those whose country of origin is not the United States. More than half the tests found evidence of discrimination, and SOCR filed illegal-discrimination complaints to 13 properties.
Councilmember Harrell added, “The housing audit results makes it crystal clear that we have much more to do to ensure that everyone in this city has fair and equal access to housing. It’s disgusting that this is still happening in 2015. I’m hopeful that today’s announcement by President Obama will help bring greater attention and focus to this important issue in Seattle. I fully intend to have these audits continue, as they are a critical tool to identify unlawful discriminatory housing practices, file charges where appropriate, share results and findings, and implement community education and outreach strategies.”
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