|HUD No. 12-123
August 9, 2012
HUD AND HUNTSVILLE UTILITIES REACH AGREEMENT SETTLING AN ALLEGATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PROSPECTIVE HISPANIC RESIDENTIAL CUSTOMERS
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it has reached an agreement with Huntsville Utilities in Huntsville, Alabama, settling an allegation that the utility company discriminated against prospective customers based on national origin by requiring that Hispanic applicants apply for residential utility service in person, while offering non-Hispanic applicants the option of applying in person or online. In addition, the company's application required individuals requesting residential service to provide their Social Security number. Huntsville Utilities provides water, natural gas and electric services to approximately 170,000 households in Huntsville, Madison County and northern Marshall County, Alabama.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to impose different terms or conditions in the provision of services in connection with a dwelling, based on national origin, race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
"Equal access to utility services is fundamental to fair housing," said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "We are pleased that Huntsville Utilities is now working with HUD to remove any unnecessary barriers."
The settlement agreement is not an admission by Huntsville Utilities of any violation of the Fair Housing Act. Huntsville Utilities voluntarily entered into the settlement agreement to demonstrate its commitment to conduct its activities in compliance with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
"Huntsville Utilities is committed to non-discrimination in providing the best service to all its customers," said William Pippin, President and CEO of Huntsville Utilities. "We fully cooperated with HUD's investigation because we take our leadership responsibility seriously and want to serve as a positive role model in our community."
The settlement stems from a complaint initiated by HUD after testing conducted by the Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama, a HUD-funded fair housing agency, indicated that callers seeking to become residential customers of Huntsville Utilities received different treatment based on Hispanic national origin. A Hispanic tester was told that she must apply in person, while a non-Hispanic tester was given the option to apply in person or online through the company's Web site.
Under the settlement agreement, which will be in effect for three years, Huntsville Utilities will adopt a non-discriminatory service policy, develop and publish a list of alternative eligibility or identification documents that do not rely solely on Social Security numbers and clarify which identity documents are required to qualify for service. The company will develop plans to market its services to prospective customers with limited English proficiency and to provide translation services.
Huntsville Utilities will also administer fair housing training to its employees and conduct periodic testing to ensure that it is offering its services to every applicant equally, regardless of national origin. In addition, the company will donate $5,000 to a local Alabama non-profit organization that serves the Latino community.
HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, with its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program, investigates approximately 10,000 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they have experienced or witnessed unlawful housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 (voice). More information about fair housing rights is available at HUD's website, www.hud.gov/fairhousing.
HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes: utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination; and transform the way HUD does business. More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov and http://espanol.hud.gov. You can also follow HUD on twitter @HUDgov, on facebook at www.facebook.com/HUD, or sign up for news alerts on HUD's News Listserv.