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Regional Spotlight: R.I. Gets Grants to Promote Fair Housing Laws

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RISMEDIA, April 16, 2007-(MCT)-Rhode Island is the recipient of $200,000 in federal housing grants to raise awareness about the rights of buyers and tenants under state and federal fair-housing laws.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the grant money- $100,000 each to Rhode Island Housing and the Housing Network of Rhode Island-to support efforts to educate the public and private sector about their rights and responsibilities under the federal Fair Housing Act.

"Whether it appears subtly in an advertisement or is expressed verbally during a real estate transaction, discrimination in this industry continues to hinder many Rhode Islanders' access," Rhode Island Housing's Executive Director, Richard Godfrey, said in a statement.

Rhode Island reported 42 complaints of housing discrimination in fiscal 2006, of which 3 were reported to HUD, said Shantae Goodloe, of HUD's public affairs office. The remaining 39 complaints were reported to state and local agencies such as Rhode Island Housing, she said.

"Because there's a shortage of affordable housing, there is a landlords' and sellers' market, so there is more opportunity for discrimination," Godfrey said in an interview yesterday. In addition, lack of knowledge about the fair housing laws can often lead to inadvertent violations by towns or developers, he said.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status or national origin. The law covers private houses as well as housing that receives federal money or is run by state and local governments.

"In order to truly put an end to home buyer and renter discrimination, we need to reach out to everyone," Brenda Clement, executive director of The Housing Network, said in a statement. In addition to providing counseling to consumers, she said, the agency also will educate landlords, property managers, developers, lenders, real estate agents and municipal officials.

Besides education, the grant money will be used to investigate allegations of housing discrimination. The federal agency reported that its Fair Housing Assistance Program investigates more than 10,300 discrimination complaints a year.

HUD announced last October that it had awarded just over $18 million to housing agencies in 42 states to promote education concerning housing discrimination through the federal agency's Fair Housing Initiatives Program.

Massachusetts agencies received about $647,000, according to data published on the HUD Web site.

To learn more about the campaign, including information about how to file a complaint, visit www.fairhousingri.org or contact Rhode Island Housing at (401) 457-1234.

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