What is the FHEO (The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity) and its associated programs: FHIP and FHAP?
What is the FHEO?
Created by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is the largest agency within the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The agency sets out to create equal housing opportunities for anyone living in America. By administering laws that prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and familial status, the FHEO can carry out its mission successfully.
The FHEO also investigates complaints of discrimination faced in the sale of houses. Although the agency has broad responsibilities, it generally focuses on affordable housing properties. In particular, it focuses on those taking advantage of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits or backed by HUD-insured loans.
Ways to file a complaint to the FHEO
If you’ve experienced discrimination related to housing, there are a few ways to file a complaint through HUD.
- File a complaint form on the HUD website.
- Email a complaint form to your regional FHEO Office.
- Call an FHEO specialist at 1(800) 669-9777 or 1(800) 877-8339.
- Mail a complaint to your local FHEO Office.
The HUD also offers toll-free teletypewriters and disability-related assistance upon request.
History of the FHEO
Before its successful passage into the law, the Act faced certain hindrances from 1966 to 1967. One of which was that Congress failed to get enough political support for its passage, even though the Act was a direct follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The inadequate support was because many states had already passed their fair housing laws at that time. As such, Congress didn’t see the need for a federal law.
However, things changed after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 11, 1968. Before his death, Dr. King had campaigned for a federal fair housing law throughout 1966 but could not achieve it. With his death came several riots, which caused a wave of civil disturbance, and Congress finally passed the bill.
Since then, the Fair Housing Act has been amended twice. The first time was in 1974, when sex was added as a protected basis.
The second time the Act was amended was in 1988, which was done to expand the number of protected bases and correct some of the enforcement inadequacies of the original Act.
The Fair Housing Act was changed by Congress to include protection for persons with disabilities and prohibit discrimination based on familial status.
The amendment came with benefits, as expected. Aggrieved parties were able to seek remedy for their cases before a HUD Administrative Law Judge or in federal court.
The Department of Justice was also granted the power to impose more severe punishments on those who violated the Act.
Complaints and Investigation Process
The FHEO handles discrimination complaints concerning housing filed through The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For example, if a tenant believes they’ve been discriminated against based on disability, such an individual can file a complaint. Some of the glaring situations of discrimination based on disability are:
- Being asked discriminating questions about their disability.
- Being denied a chance to apply for an apartment because of their disability status.
- Being denied a service animal.
- Being charged higher rent because of disability status.
Once a complaint is made, the process of assessing it begins. The process involves intake, investigation, conciliation or voluntary compliance, and legal action.
This is the first step in assessing any complaint made to the HUD. They start by verifying whether the incident violates the laws and mandates. If the report reflects an instance of discrimination, the FHEO will file a formal complaint.
An interview may also be conducted with the complaining party to understand the situation further.
Then, the FHEO may draft a formal written complaint and ask the complaining party to sign it before notifying all parties involved that a complaint has been filed. The FHEO has also sometimes referred complaints to a state or local government agency for investigation.
Once a formal complaint is filed, the HUD assigns one or more investigators to investigate the alleged discrimination.
The complaining party might be asked to provide more information like the time and place of the incident, the people involved or present during the incident, and any documents relevant to the complaint.
Interviews are then conducted with the parties and witnesses involved. The alleged violating party will be given a chance to respond to the discrimination allegations. The investigators may also inspect relevant properties and go through any relevant documents.
An interview will also be conducted with the tenant about the alleged discrimination. They may also be asked to provide documents proving that the landlord has violated the Fair Housing Act.
Once the investigation has concluded, the HUD will send the complaining party a written report of all its findings.
Conciliation or voluntary compliance
The HUD is responsible for helping both the complaining party and the alleged violating party reach an agreement that doesn’t lead to legal action. This can be done at any time during the investigation. However, any agreement is strictly voluntary, so either party can choose to accept or decline.
In certain situations, the investigators may encourage both parties to reach an agreement. If the parties accept and an agreement is reached, the HUD will prepare an official document for both parties to sign. This is called a conciliation or voluntary compliance agreement.
Once both parties sign the agreement, the investigation will close. The HUD may then follow up to track whether or not the agreement is being upheld.
This is the last step in the complaint and investigation process. It ultimately takes place if there is an occurrence of discrimination and both parties cannot reach an agreement.
The complaint may result in legal action, which can come in the form of a Fair Housing Act case or civil rights case brought by the government. The type of case it is depends on the HUD investigation results.
Cases like these can induce reliefs like compensation, changes in policy, or training. The HUD’s office of general counsel usually handles cases before a HUD Administrative Law Judge. At the same time, the cases in federal courts are handled by the Justice Department.
If legal action is pursued, the complaining party will not be charged any legal fees by the government.
Programs associated with the FHEO
Other programs associated with the Fair Housing Act include the Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP) and the Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP). Both programs were created as a means to support the Fair Housing Act.
They show support by providing financial aid and grants to organizations and agencies that ensure that the laws against housing discrimination are adequately enforced.
Each has different grants that serve different purposes related to the Fair Housing Act. However, certain things must be considered before an organization or agency can qualify for such grants.
The Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP)
The Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP) is a benefit program that aims to develop, implement and carry out or coordinate programs and activities designed to enforce the rights granted by the Fair Housing Act or by substantially equivalent state and local fair housing law.
They do this by funding fair housing organizations and other non-profits that assist people who believe they’ve been victims of housing discrimination.
This program is currently the only Federal grant program involved in supporting private partnerships in preventing and overcoming housing discrimination.
To be eligible for the FHIP benefit program, you must be a non-profit fair housing organization that conducts enforcement activities to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices.
Types of FHIP grants
The types of FHIP grants include the Fair Housing Organizations Initiative (FHOI), the Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI), and the Education and Outreach Initiative (EOI).
- The Fair Housing Organizations Initiative (FHOI): Existing non-profit fair housing organizations receive financial support from the FHOI. By giving money for fair housing enforcement and education activities, the funding is meant to increase the capacity and effectiveness of these groups. FHOI also supports the development and expansion of organizations that focus on the rights and requirements of underrepresented groups, particularly people with disabilities, strengthening the national fair housing movement.
- The Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI): On the other hand, the PEI provides various support to the national network of fair housing organizations. This effort aims to prevent or end discriminatory housing practices by funding non-profit fair housing organizations to conduct testing and enforcement actions.
- The Education and Outreach Initiative (EOI): The EOI grant aims to expand community education programs about fair housing obligations and rights. To educate the general public and housing providers on equal opportunity in housing and the steps that housing providers must take to comply with the Fair Housing Act, these awards are awarded to State agencies, local government entities, and non-profit organizations. One of the main objectives of the EOI grant in recent years has been to educate the public about what they can do if they are facing foreclosure and how to be wary of foreclosure programs to protect them from lending schemes that prey on minority homeowners.
Eligibility for FHIP grants
- FHIP-FHOI: Applications must be submitted by certified fair housing groups with at least two years of experience in complaint intake, complaint investigation, testing for fair housing violations, and meritorious claims in the three years before the application is submitted.
- FHIP-PEI: Organizations with a history of enforcing fair housing laws and meeting specific criteria on the quantity and caliber of their prior expertise may apply for FHIP-PEI financing.
- FHIP-EOI: FHIP-EOI funding requests may be made by state or local governments, qualified fair housing enforcement organizations (those with at least two years of experience), additional fair housing organizations, and other public or private nonprofit organizations that speak on behalf of groups of people protected by the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP)
The Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) is a federal program administered by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Through this program, State and local agencies that implement fair housing legislation roughly similar to the Fair Housing Act get noncompetitive annual funding.
Grants from this program are only available to state or local agencies that uphold fair housing laws substantially equivalent to the Fair Housing Act.
In other words, the agency is qualified for funding provided the legislation it enforces contains provisions for judicial review, substantive rights, and other remedies similar to those found in the Fair Housing Act. However, when establishing eligibility, the HUD may also consider whether an FHAP agency already covers the area.
The processing of complaints, training, the construction of data and information systems, and other specific projects are some activities that are eligible for funding by the FHAP.
Fundamentals of Fair Housing – FHAP Investigation Course
This training is intended to give FHIP and FHAP intake officers and investigators a solid foundation to perform their tasks promptly, effectively, professionally, and competently.
The course aims to prepare participants for the following after completion:
- Being able to describe the critical steps in planning case investigations.
- Being able to identify and apply practical elements of proof as the framework to investigate a case.
- Being able to describe techniques for gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses.
- Being able to describe how to develop final investigative reports and drafts of determinations.
To be considered eligible for the FHAP Investigation Course:
- Be employed by an FHIP or FHAP with less than three years of experience working in fair housing.
- Support investigation activities within your organization.
- Complete NFHTA’s Basics of Fair Housing or be familiar with the Basics of Fair Housing Learning Objectives
All four classes must be attended, the pre-work and homework must be finished, and participants must actively engage in the program by embracing new knowledge and abilities and forming relationships with others.
You can sign up for this course on the National Fair Housing Training Academy website.