|HUD No. 00-198|
|Further Information:||For Release|
|In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685||Tuesday|
|Or contact your local HUD office||August 1, 2000|
HUD REPORT DETAILS POSSIBLE HOUSING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST HISPANIC FAMILIES IN ELGIN, IL
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today issued a report that details a number of potentially troubling activities by Elgin municipal employees that may indicate that the city has breached a September 1999 agreement with HUD to end discriminatory practices when inspecting Hispanic-owned or occupied homes for occupancy code violations.
The report summarizes a recent two-month HUD review of city inspection practices from October 1999 through March 2000. Among other apparent violations of the agreement, HUD found:
False Justifications for Warrants. City inspectors' affidavits requesting warrants for interior inspections of Hispanic homes indicated that many properties had significant exterior code violations, and, therefore, were likely to have interior code violations. However, in most cases, after the warrants had been issued and the inspections conducted, no exterior violations were cited. HUD officials found no similar instances involving inspections of non-Hispanic homes.
Disparate Application of Room Dimension Requirements. The occupancy code stipulates that a habitable room be a minimum seven feet in any dimension. This requirement, however, was applied differently when calculating habitable space for white homeowners than for Hispanic homeowners.
Disparate Treatment Regarding Definition of Sleeping Room. Similarly, only bedrooms were considered to be sleeping rooms for Hispanic homeowners, while living rooms were included as additional sleeping rooms for white homeowners. Without the inclusion of additional sleeping areas, many Hispanic units were found to be "overcrowded." While the code allows for the inclusion of this space, it was not included with Hispanic homeowners.
Disparate Notification and Re-inspection Processes. Inspectors often called or left notes requesting inspection appointments at the properties of non-Hispanic owners, but did not give such courtesies to Hispanics. Additionally, a great deal of leniency was generally shown to non-Hispanic owners who had been notified of code violations, while properties of Hispanics who had also been so notified were re-inspected quickly, and condemnation notices were placed on the properties if they were still in non-compliance with code.
Disparate Treatment Regarding Appeals. City officials supported an appeals filed by a white homeowner with the appeal board seeking waiver of the code's minimum ceiling height requirements. In justifying its support of the white homeowner, city officials evoked a 1998 letter from an official from the Building Officials & Code Administrators (BOCA) International, Inc., indicating that the city has discretion in interpreting and applying the code. Yet, in appeals filed by Hispanics, city officials recommended that the appeal board uphold the ceiling height requirements. The board granted the waiver for the white homeowner, but denied those of Hispanic homeowners.
Inconsistent Application of BOCA Codes. City officials evicted Hispanic families for code violations despite the fact that the officials knew since 1998 that they could have granted a variance and not have violated the intent of the code to ensure the health and safety of residents.
The city now has the opportunity to respond to HUD's report. If the city does not demonstrate that it is in full compliance with the agreement or that it will come into full compliance shortly, HUD will refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice.
During the early- to mid-1990s Elgin experienced severe overcrowding problems in residential property. Concurrently, Elgin's Hispanic population grew nearly 52 percent -- from about 14,000 to more than 21,000, while the number of Caucasians decreased slightly to about 54,000.
City officials, eager to address overcrowding, began to aggressively enforce provisions of the city's property maintenance code. From October 1998 to May 1999, seven Hispanic families filed complaints with HUD alleging that city officials targeted Hispanic families for selective enforcement of occupancy standards designed to limit the number of people living in a home.
City officials denied any wrongdoing; they did, however, reach a settlement with HUD last year in which they agreed to pay the seven families $10,000 and agree to change the manner in which home inspections were conducted. The two-year agreement was signed in September. The report issued today is a follow-up to that agreement.
According to city records, from 1995 to 1998 officials issued about 268 citations for occupancy code violations. Of those, 179 -- or about 64 percent -- went to families with Hispanic surnames. However, Hispanics make up only about 8 percent of homeowners and occupy only about 20 percent of the rental units in Elgin. More than 80 percent of the citations were issued on the East Side of Elgin, an area with many Hispanic and African American residents.
In the original complaints, the families told HUD that inspectors showed up unannounced at night and early in the morning -- including 5:00 a.m. on one occasion -- to see how many people were inside a home. The families also complained to HUD that city inspectors entered homes without obtaining permission from occupants who did not speak fluent English.
In another instance, a married couple told HUD that an inspector arrived while the wife's mother was visiting from Mexico. The couple said the inspector gave them a verbal warning to reduce the number of people in the home or face condemnation of the property and eviction -- even though they told him the mother was just a temporary guest.
The Fair Housing Act bars housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. The Act covers the sale, rental, financing and advertising of almost all housing in the nation. Fair housing investigations are conducted by HUD investigators, state and city agencies working with HUD, and private fair housing groups that receive HUD funds.