HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No. 00-319
Further Information: For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685 Wednesday
Or contact your local HUD office November 15, 2000


WASHINGTON - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo said today that he has referred complaints that the City of Elgin, IL, discriminates against Hispanics when inspecting for housing occupancy code violations to the U.S. Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

In making the announcement, Cuomo said he was "left with no other recourse" when negotiations with City officials to end the illegal practices failed to result in an agreement before the November 15 deadline. Despite HUD's aggressive efforts to resolve the dispute, which included the unusual step of sending senior staff from Washington to Chicago to participate in negotiations, the parties were unable to reach a voluntary settlement.In September 1999, the City signed a Conciliation Agreement with HUD after seven Hispanic families complained that from October 1998 to May 1999 City officials targeted them for selective enforcement of occupancy standards designed to limit the number of people living in a home. Though City officials denied any wrongdoing, they agreed to pay the families $10,000 and change the manner in which home inspections were conducted. HUD determined in August 2000, after conducting a monitoring review, that the City had never fully complied with the Conciliation Agreement, which was designed to prevent future discrimination in the City's housing code enforcement. Shortly thereafter, HOPE, a nonprofit fair housing organization, filed 19 complaints with HUD alleging discriminatory enforcement of the housing occupancy codes against Hispanics. The complainants included Hispanic residents, as well as landlords who argued that the City's discriminatory enforcement practices interfered with their ability to rent to Hispanics. Today, a total of 20 complaints, 19 filed by HOPE, are pending against the City. In accordance with the 1999 Conciliation Agreement, HUD informed the City that HUD has reason to believe that the City had breached the 1999 Conciliation Agreement. HUD then entered into negotiations to end the alleged illegal practices through voluntary reforms by the City."It's clear to me that the City of Elgin is either unwilling or unable to reach a negotiated resolution of this dispute," Cuomo said, "As a result, I have referred this matter to the Justice Department."Jeff Taren, counsel for HOPE Fair Housing Center, applauded Secretary Cuomo's decisive action. "I am disappointed by the City's failure to reach a voluntary settlement in a timely manner. HUD has been instrumental in bringing all of the parties to the table. By referring this matter to the Department of Justice, HUD has demonstrated that it is committed to taking whatever action is necessary to ensure that the Latino residents of Elgin receive the equal protection of the law. HOPE will continue to work with the City of Elgin and with the Department of Justice to try to bring this matter to a prompt and fair resolution."The cause of today's action can be traced to the early- to mid-1990s, when Elgin experienced severe overcrowding problems in residential property. During that time Elgin's Hispanic population grew nearly 52 percent -- from about 14,000 to more than 21,000 -- while the number of non-Hispanic whites decreased slightly to about 54,000.City officials, eager to address overcrowding, began to enforce aggressively provisions of the City's property maintenance code. Hispanic families told HUD that City 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.According to the City's own 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.HUD entered into a voluntary Conciliation Agreement with the City in September 1999. The Conciliation Agreement established several procedural safeguards designed to prevent discrimination against Hispanics, specifically by limiting interior and early morning inspections of residential properties in cases of alleged overcrowding. When the Conciliation Agreement was signed, HUD officials thought the case was concluded. On August 1, 2000, however, HUD issued a monitoring report that detailed a number of potentially troubling activities by Elgin municipal employees that led HUD to conclude that the City had breached the Conciliation Agreement. The report summarized a two-month review of City inspection practices from October 1999 through March 2000. The major conclusion of the monitoring report was that in spite of the 1999 agreement, code enforcement continued to fall disproportionately on Hispanic families.Based on the monitoring report and the new complaints filed by HOPE and others, HUD approached the City to do more to ensure that Hispanic residents were not disproportionately or unfairly targeted by housing code compliance activities. HUD began negotiating with City officials to provide additional measures to protect Hispanic residents against this type of housing discrimination and to discuss compensation for the victims of the alleged discrimination. The initial deadline for concluding negotiations with the City was October 24. HUD granted a single extension until November 15 in the hope that the parties could reach a settlement. Unfortunately, the parties were not able to agree. As a result, HUD is referring the 20 complaints pending against the City to the Department of Justice for investigation and possible enforcement. In addition, the Justice Department inquiry will also focus on the evidence in HUD's monitoring report concerning the 1999 Conciliation Agreement with HUD.Cuomo said that HUD will make its staff and resources available to the Justice Department to assist in further investigating and preparing this case.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.

       Note: People who believe they've been harmed by housing discrimination can file complaints with HUD by calling 1-800-669-9777.


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