Washington, D.C.—The home loan foreclosure crisis may have been avoided had fair housing laws been properly enforced, according to a report released Dec. 9 by the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, based here.

 “Housing discrimination helped lead us to our current foreclosure crisis,” said Henry Cisneros, who co-chaired the commission with Jack Kemp—both former secretaries of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The report, “The Future of Fair Housing,” calls for a new independent federal agency to police fair housing violations such as predatory lending aimed at minorities and real estate practices such as steering. There are more than 4 million fair housing violations every year, but HUD, the current enforcement agency, only treats 2,500 complaints annually, according to the commission.

“It isn’t in HUD’s interest to prosecute fair housing violations,” said Cisneros. That’s because HUD needs positive relationships with the lenders and localities it partners with to produce affordable housing. “The lack of enforcement opens the door to discriminatory practices,” said Cisneros. Predatory lending practices hit minority borrowers hardest.

To prove their point, Kemp and Cisneros went on the road with the commission, visiting five cities and collecting hundreds of hours of testimony from individuals, academics, and industry experts on the need for fair housing reform. “A comprehensive approach is necessary,” said Pat Combs, past president of the National Association of Realtors.

The commission has submitted its recommendations to President-elect Barack Obama’s advisers. “The transition team has responded very positively,” said Cisneros.