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HUD No. 98-01
Further Information:For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-1420Monday
Or contact your local HUD officeJanuary 5, 1998


WASHINGTON - The Department of Housing and Urban Development today announced the Pinellas County Housing Authority in Florida has signed a voluntary compliance agreement to end housing discrimination uncovered by HUD investigators. The agreement commits the housing authority to take a series of actions over a five-year period to ensure that the Authority's minority and disabled residents get the same treatment, housing options and level of services as majority residents. The Pinellas County Housing Authority has agreed to help move African American residents to predominantly white housing and to reimburse residents with disabilities for physical improvements. HUD this summer found the Pinellas County Housing Authority (PCHA) was excluding African Americans from predominantly white developments and also made residents with disabilities pay for their own access improvements, such as wheelchair ramps. Since 1987, only four African American elderly families have lived in PCHA's two elderly developments, Heatherwood (100 units) and Lakeside Terrace (110 units). "The findings indicated that the PCHA was receiving HUD funds while denying minority residents their civil rights-and that's something that HUD won't tolerate," said Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Eva M. Plaza. "This voluntary compliance agreement represents HUD's "zero tolerance" for discrimination in programs funded with the American tax dollar." HUD's investigation found that:

  • African American elderly families had been excluded from PCHA's low-income public housing and Section 8 rental subsidy programs;

  • PCHA's occupancy practices perpetuated a historical pattern of segregation of PCHA's two family public housing developments through 1996;

  • PCHA failed to take effective steps to stop racial harassment of two African American elderly families in predominantly white elderly developments;

  • PCHA failed to provide disabled residents with reasonable accommodations (for example, tenants were required to pay for the installation of ramps to gain access to dwelling units);

  • PCHA applications contained unlawful inquiries into the nature and severity of applicants' disabilities.
In addition, HUD has a number of concerns about the Pinellas County Housing Authority's policies and procedures on application taking, waiting lists and tenant selection procedures for public housing. HUD's Office of Public and Indian Housing is currently conducting an in-depth management assessment of the PCHA. The five-year Voluntary Compliance Agreement was negotiated after HUD issued a letter of findings of discrimination to the PCHA on September 30, detailing the results of its investigation. Although PCHA disputed the findings, it agreed to enter into a settlement that took effect December 30. "The voluntary compliance agreement represents the beginning of reforms at the Pinellas County Housing Authority," said HUD Deputy General Counsel for Civil Rights and Fair Housing Mercedes M. Mrquez. "We want to encourage and work with the local community to become involved in the solutions." Under the terms of the agreement the PCHA must:
  • Offer African American tenants in the predominantly African American public housing development an opportunity to transfer to the predominantly white family development (French Villas) or all-white elderly units of Heatherwood and Lakeside Terrace and pay the moving expenses and security deposit for those transferring;

  • Offer an opportunity to apply for priority placement on the Section 8 rental subsidy waiting list to two African American residents who were racially harassed in the predominately white Heatherwood and Lakeside Terrace developments; adopt and implement a "zero tolerance" policy against racial harassment and establish procedures for handling such complaints, and provide moving and security deposit assistance to the two victims;

  • Offer all tenants in PCHA's family public housing developments an opportunity to apply for priority placement on the new Section 8 waiting list based on the date of their original lease date and provide moving and security deposit assistance;

  • Reimburse disabled tenants who paid for installation of ramps and grab bars and other accommodations that PCHA illegally required tenants to pay for, and survey all facilities to assure that accessible housing is made available to the disabled;

  • Reach out to the African-American community countywide to increase participation in the Section 8 program and to make minorities and people with disabilities aware of the availability of low-income public housing (HUD will provide a list of minority, disabled and community groups to be included);

  • Temporarily suspend issuance of new Section 8 certificates and vouchers and suspend filling vacancies in public housing until new procedures are in place and until HUD has approved new Section 8 and public housing waiting lists (HUD expects that the PCHA will resume issuing Section 8 certificates and vouchers and filling public housing vacancies within 90 days.);

  • Provide equal maintenance and lawn-care services to residents at all public housing developments.
In addition, the Pinellas County Housing Authority has agreed to hire an administrator to implement the five-year voluntary compliance agreement. Also, it must bring in outside experts to direct the administration of the PCHA's occupancy process for the first six months. The outside consultants will also train and assist the authority's staff for up to two years to implement the reformed tenant selection and assignment policies and practices. HUD's investigation found the PCHA violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Title VI makes it illegal to discriminate against any person participating in a federally funded program or activity because of race, color or national origin. Section 504 makes it illegal to deny people with disabilities full access to federally assisted programs and activities.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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