New and upcoming revisions to the Fair Housing Act address two separate issues – housing victims of last year’s hurricane disasters and the provision of language translation services for tenants with limited English skills.

Both are important. The first change could quickly boost occupancy rates while the second could force project managers to divert funds to language translation from other budgeted priorities, such as maintenance.

In the weeks following the Gulf Coast hurricane disasters, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received inquiries from certain housing providers asking if they could house evacuees under the age of 55 from that region and continue to qualify for the Act’s “housing for older persons” exemption.

For a community to qualify for the exemptions, the Act requires that 80% of all units be occupied by at least one person 55 years of age or older.

In late 2005, HUD relaxed fair housing rules for apartment properties that provide “housing for older persons,” which include seniors housing. If housing for older persons admits evacuees without regard to familial status, HUD will consider the units where younger evacuees reside to be unoccupied units.

Treating units occupied by evacuees as unoccupied and excluding them from the 80% calculation is consistent with how other types of units are treated under the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995, according to HUD.

Other units similarly excluded from the calculation include: unoccupied units; units occupied by employees of the housing for older persons who are under the age of 55, and who provide substantial management and maintenance services to the housing for older persons; and units occupied solely by persons who are necessary or essential to provide medical and/or health and nursing care services as a reasonable accommodation to residents.

Housing for older persons may choose to impose a time limit on admitting and housing younger evacuees, but HUD has encouraged housing the evacuees for as long as there is a need.

The second fair housing issue is the upcoming guidance on limited English proficiency by HUD.

“Under this guidance, HUD is advising … housing operators that they have to translate leases and other vital documents” at the project’s expense, said Michelle Kitchen, director of government affairs for the National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA).

NAHMA estimates that translation costs could run $10,000 per property per language. “The [draft] guidance is vague and costly. No one is proposing a way to offset the extra cost,” said Kitchen.

She said that NAHMA has had several meetings with HUD officials to propose changes to the guidance.n

The Fair Housing Act prohibits the following actions in the sale and rental of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:

• refuse to rent or sell housing

• refuse to negotiate for housing

• make housing unavailable

• deny a dwelling

• set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling

• provide different housing services or facilities

• falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale or rental

• for profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting) or

• deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a

multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing

The Act also prohibits landlords from the following:

• refuse physically and/or mentally disabled tenants from making reasonable

modifications to their dwelling or common use areas at their expense, if

necessary for them to use the housing

• refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or

services necessary for them to use the housing

Unless a building or community qualifies as “housing for older persons,” it may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, it may not discriminate against families in which one or more children younger than 18 live with a parent or a legal custodian.

Source:Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund