Disability is the Major Complaint in Rural Fair Housing Actions

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March, 2011; Source: Housing Assistance Council (PDF) | The nonprofit Housing Assistance Council is one of rural America's most steadfast advocates – in addition to its role in providing technical assistance, training, and some financing to rural community development organizations. Smartly, HAC backs up its advocacy with robust research.

This new report analyzing 91,030 fair housing complaints in the HUD database from 1998 to 2008 revealed some 13 percent were filed for alleged discriminatory actions in rural communities, a proportion that might have been higher if rural residents were as aware of the opportunities to file fair housing grievances as their urban counterparts. What were the causal factors behind the discrimination complaints?

The big finding here is the increase in discrimination complaints based on disability, overtaking discrimination based on race for this period. According to HAC, 37 percent of the rural complaints were based on disability, 29 percent on race, 12 percent family status, 7 percent gender, and 6 percent national origin. In the mid-1990s, when HAC last did this kind of analysis, race was behind 45 percent of the rural housing discrimination complaints.

These findings track the national data, which show for the period of 2005 to 2008, housing discrimination complaints based on disability were 42 percent and on race 37 percent. Some of this might be due to HUD's creation of an office emphasizing issues of the disabled in the housing market, bringing new attention and new awareness to this population's housing needs. But it also suggests that the disabled have become an increasingly visible "minority" facing challenges in the housing market (and the job market too), but as the data show, philanthropic attention to the disabled has yet to increase proportionately to the need.

As the challenges to the disabled in the housing and job markets increase (or at least get more attention), it is incumbent on philanthropy to step up its support for the organizations that are trying to respond.—Rick Cohen