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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Housing discrimination complaints fell sharply in Washington last year

By Laurel Demkovich Washington State Standard

Complaints from people who say they are being discriminated against in the housing market declined in Washington last year, but remained at an all-time high nationwide.

It’s the third year in a row that the national record for the complaints has been broken, according to a new report from the National Fair Housing Alliance.

In Washington, there were 347 total complaints of housing discrimination. The most being for discrimination against people with disabilities. That’s down nearly 56% from 787 last year.

A federal law, known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discriminating against those seeking housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability.

But despite the law, discrimination is still pervasive in the modern housing market, said

Morgan Williams, general counsel at the National Fair Housing Alliance.

The group’s annual Fair Housing Report looks at the number of complaints related to housing discrimination each year, using data from partner housing organizations, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The continued increases in reports of discrimination mean that lawmakers are not doing enough to secure adequate resources for the organizations that help educate the public about fair housing laws,” Williams said.

In 2023, there were 34,150 complaints across the country – a 3.5% increase from the previous year. Most of the complaints – almost 53% – were because of discrimination based on disability. But complaints because of race and sex discrimination were also prominent.

Many states, including Washington, saw little increase or even a decrease in complaints last year. California saw the largest portion of complaints in the country, making up 25% of the country’s total. Overall, it saw 8,667 complaints in 2023.

The report notes that six fair housing organizations were unable to report fair housing data this year – some because of a lack of funding to do so. It also acknowledges that many instances of discrimination go unreported.

Of Washington’s 347 complaints, 223 were related to disability. Another 55 were related to race, and 33 were related to sex.

The numbers are similar to 2022 when more than half of Washington’s complaints were related to disability discrimination. Race discrimination was the next highest portion with 76 complaints.

To address housing discrimination, the report includes recommendations for federal, state and local governments.

The top recommendation is for the Biden administration to begin enforcing a rule finalized late last year that requires organizations receiving federal funds for housing to deliver those funds in a way that furthers fair housing and ensures resources are distributed equitably. The rule will also require state and local governments and public housing agencies to complete fair housing plans.

Once enforced, it will be critical in creating affordable and inclusive communities, according to the report.

Another recommendation urges lawmakers to implement stronger laws to prevent housing discrimination against people using vouchers or other alternative sources of income to pay rent.

The alliance recommends giving local public housing authorities and landlords who receive some funding from the federal government clearer guidance on this. It also pushes the federal government to expand protected groups under the Fair Housing Act to include people using vouchers or other rental assistance.

Williams said local governments across the country have already started protecting people with vouchers from discrimination, but it’s still not a protection at the federal level.

“There’s ongoing efforts to continue to expand the local fabric that has protections around source of income,” Williams said.

Washington lawmakers in 2018 added protections into state law against discrimination for renters’ sources of income.

The report also calls on the federal government to pass a comprehensive housing plan, which should include ways to address housing affordability, shortages in the supply of homes and further enforcement of fair housing policies.

The lack of a comprehensive law, according to the report, is “a significant failure leaving the American people struggling with rising housing costs.”