GATEWAY PERSPECTIVES: Sometimes Shorter is Not Better

Richard Haggerty | March 13, 2018

As mentioned in HGAR President Barry Kramer’s column this month, not only is April Fair Housing Month, we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act, formally referred to as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

The Act was amended in 1988 to prohibit discrimination based on disability or on familial status (presence of children under the age of 18, and pregnant women). The 1988 Amendment also established new administrative enforcement mechanisms with HUD attorneys bringing actions before administrative law judges on behalf of victims of housing discrimination, and revised and expanded Justice Department jurisdiction to bring suit on behalf of victims in Federal district courts.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was created in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. If you go to the HUD website you will see they describe HUD’s role as: “…the Federal agency responsible for national policy and programs that address America’s housing needs, that improve and develop the Nation’s communities, and enforce fair housing laws. HUD’s business is helping create a decent home and suitable living environment for all Americans, and it has given America’s communities a strong national voice at the Cabinet level. HUD plays a major role in supporting homeownership by underwriting homeownership for lower- and moderate-income families through its mortgage insurance programs.”

Given HUD’s role in the creation of affordable housing and the enforcement of fair housing laws the National Association of Realtors has long fostered a close dialogue with the agency on housing issues. Last week you may have received an e-mail from NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall concerning HUD’s mission statement, saying that “fair housing for all” should remain a critical part of any new mission statement that HUD considers. HUD’s current mission statement is as follows: “HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.”

HUD has proposed to change the agency’s mission statement to the following: “HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation.” The first thing I noticed when reading this proposed statement is it’s much more concise, and I’m usually a big fan of brevity. However, it is noteworthy that the proposed revision removes the reference to building “inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination….”

In my January article for Real Estate In-Depth, I wrote about the importance of language or as I put it, words count. In the case of the proposed change to HUD’s mission statement, I would suggest that sometimes shorter isn’t better, and it’s my hope that HUD does not forget it’s vital role in the creation of inclusive communities free from discrimination.


Richard Haggerty