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Even progressive Portland has housing discrimination issues

Even the most progressive of cities deals with housing discrimination. After issuing a mandatory audit, authorities in Portland, Ore., discovered 32 instances of unequal housing treatment in 50 cases.

The Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO) was paid $19,000 by the city to conduct the investigation as part of a once-every-five years requirement to monitor Portland’s progress with housing discrimination; non-compliance risks losing the city $9 million to $11 million in federal funding.

The Oregonian, first to report on the results of the audit, received conflicting statements from the city commissioner on whether legal action will be taken against the offenders, which include leasing agents and landlords. From the paper:

City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau, said he was “outraged by the results.” But he emphasized that stopping discrimination must include education and cooperation with landlords, not just enforcement.

Asked last week whether the city will go after the landlords found in violation, he said: “That’s not the right question. The intent is to do a balanced approach. I have concluded that the best approach is to look at changes to the system and not just individual remedies.”

Monday night, responding to inquiries for clarification, he said in a memo: “We have always intended to pursue enforcement actions against select landlords tested in the audit process.” He provided no details or timeline, though the city’s time to build cases is running low.

Though housing discrimination is illegal federally, prosecutors have difficulty proving offenders willfully misled or withheld from applicants accurate information regarding rent, pricing and availability.

Through its Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal body that oversees fair housing laws and initiatives, sends out investigators posing as white and minority housing seekers to test for discriminatory practices from landlords and leasing companies.

According to a 2010 HUD report, the most common complaint filed with the department had to do with disability, which accounted for 44 percent of all complaints placed through the Fair Housing Act. That same report indicated that in 2009, the department collected $10 million in fines for fair housing violations.

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