Fair Housing: SoCal Programs Fight Discrimination
By Dianne Anderson
No city, it seems, is immune to the raging housing crisis with sky-high rents, and renters too scared to fight their landlords over bad housing conditions for fear of homelessness.
Rose Mayes, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, Inc. wants the community to know that help is available with her organization.
As one of 182 fair housing organizations nationwide to receive the Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, her nonprofit was awarded $425,000. PEI funds non-profit fair housing organizations to carry out testing and enforcement activities to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices. The Fair Housing Foundation in Long Beach, serving all cities in Orange County and Los Angeles County, also received a HUD grant of $425,000.
On Wednesday, April 12, the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County 2023 Fair Housing Conference at Riverside Convention Center will draw hundreds of community leaders, government officials, landlords, and management companies to get the latest news on affordable housing, houselessness, homeownership and fair housing updates.
The “Advancing Equitable and Affordable Housing” event requires registration, and is open to the public.
Mayes said it is a national problem, not just in Riverside County, but most often she hears concerns about how developers are coming in and buying units, which increases the cost and competition for housing.
“They are investing in these units and it’s driving the cost of rental units up. We’re in a crisis situation now,” she said.
Her office offers certification for fair housing counselors, who are now mandated to be certified when giving information to the public. They also provide fair housing training and certification for landlords, and property managers with education on how not to discriminate against residents.
Also coming up in April, she is meeting with several local leaders in a legislative roundtable to expand discussions on issues related to her outreach, and talk about influencing policy.
To deal with the immediate problem of the unhoused, her organization often speaks at City Hall, the County Board of Supervisors and other elected officials to keep policymakers in the loop.
“We speak with them regarding the impacts, and we’re going to Washington D.C. to make them aware of what’s going on in the community because out of sight, out of mind,” she said.
Housing discrimination takes various forms. One is that most people in trouble with their landlords or having rental problems are afraid to report housing discrimination. Now that rent increases are allowed post-pandemic, they could face hundreds of dollars more in rent if they move.
“They’d rather suffer and take the abuse rather than report housing discrimination. Some of them are living in substandard units, but they don’t want to report it because they may be given a 30 or 60-day notice,” she said.
Another concern is that senior homeowners are being coerced with reverse mortgages. She knows where clients can get help.
“We’re here for them, I’m concerned about a lot of seniors who are being taken advantage of when their homes are paid, and the reverse mortgage that’s really being abused,” she said.
The Fair Housing Foundation in Long Beach is expanding its discrimination department and staff to help process more discrimination complaints, including deaf, hard of hearing and wheelchair-accessible pathways, including areas of lending discrimination.
Stella Verdeja, the organization’s executive director, sees undeniable disparities, but under California law, Section 8 Vouchers are now a protected class. Landlords can’t deny someone with a voucher from applying because of the voucher.
“What we see higher right now, it’s not necessarily race, it is in combination, and stems more from refusals of the voucher holders. But when it comes down to it, minorities are the ones that hold most of the vouchers,” she said.
She educates providers on the rules, what they can’t deny, or say.
“More likely, they don’t want to rent to a specific race, whether African American, Latino or Asian, but there’s also denial for children, [such as] they only offer the bottom floor, but not the top floor,” she said,
Everyone must have the same rental options as everyone else, but overall, she said discrimination is more undercover these days.
“Discrimination is becoming very easy to mask, but people still have their instincts,” she said.
She is seeking more volunteer testers to survey, or act like they’re renting a unit. They’re also looking to hire a case analyst. In-depth certificate management training is also available, reviewing all state and federal fair housing laws for housing providers and management companies.
“We do a lot of outreach, we do booths at community events, meetings, part of many collaborative works in our service areas. We have at least two workshops each week, in-person and virtual workshops,” she said.
Lately, Long Beach is giving incentives to housing providers to take Section 8, which may open opportunities. Buena Park is also trying to provide an eviction defense fund, and renters can request help to avoid homelessness.”
Anyone needing assistance is invited to contact the organization.
“If they have any questions, they don’t need to have a specific statement, if they have a feeling. Give us a call. We can try to keep it anonymous, depending on the complaint,” she said.
To register for the 2023 Fair Housing Council, and see other housing resources and events, https://fairhousing.net/