EYES ON THE BALL

Friday, June 01, 2007

"Patience" is not a word normally associated with those who feel they have been the victims of discrimination. They want their grievances addressed quickly and fully. Some might call it customer service. For victims it's a matter of simple justice.

[Photo: Virginia Office of Fair Housing Celebrates Best Practice]

Five years ago, the Virginia Fair Housing Office, a FHAP agency, had difficulty in responding timely to complaints it received under the Virginia Fair Housing Law, notwithstanding the fact that Congress had mandated that complaints received under the Law be investigated and resolved within 100 days.

In a typical year the Office received about 100 new cases. But up to 80 percent took 100 days or more to be resolved, an unacceptably high "aged-case" inventory to HUD. "Their performance," says Richmond FHEO Director Ruth Winston, "left a lot of room for improvement."

The pressure was on. In close collaboration with HUD Richmond's Sylvia Berry, the Virginia Fair Housing Office conducted a top-to-bottom review and restructuring of the way complaints and cases are handled. They filled staff vacancies to reduce caseloads. They conducted extensive training of new and, for that matter, existing staff.

"Simply put, they looked in their organizational mirror, rolled up their sleeves and got the job done," Winston says. Today, she reports, just six of every 100 cases received by the Office take more than 100 days to resolve. "A remarkable turnaround," Winston says, "and something to celebrate."

And celebrate they did in April 2007 when HUD Richmond presented the Virginia Fair Housing Office with a certificate of appreciation for its "outstanding" work in reducing its backlog. "We are committed to making the American Dream a reality in terms of equal housing opportunities, which is why we set a goal for improving performance on resolving cases," said Lizbeth Hayes, Director of the Virginia Fair Housing Office. "We are proud of our progress, dedicated to continued improvement and grateful for HUD's recognition of this achievement."

"In our line of work, keeping our eyes on the prize means that we've got to keep our eyes on the ball," doing the hard, sometimes thankless work that moves us ever closer to where it is we want to be. And if there's a case study that proves that, it's probably labeled "the Virginia Fair Housing Office."

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