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Abstract

"Federal fair housing enforcement effort," like such terms as "military justice" and "honest lawyer," is an oxymoron. There are isolated examples of federal fair housing enforcement efforts, but the federal government's historically dominant role in segregating the nation, resisting the dismantlement of apartheid, and ignoring pervasive patterns of housing discrimination eclipses these largely symbolic efforts.' Critiques of the federal fair housing enforcement effort invariably focus on the incredibly low numbers of cases and complaints handled by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). From the 1968 passage of Title VIII until 1980, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department brought approximately 300 cases; by 1979 it was handling about 32 cases per year. However, in the early years of the Reagan Administration, the Justice Department filed no cases, and in 1987 the Department filed only 17 Title VIII cases. The other arm of federal enforcement, the HUD conciliation mechanism created by section 810 of Title VIII, has a similarly disappointing record. In 1977, for example, HUD received about 3,391 complaints, only 277 of which HUD successfully conciliated. The Justice Department, prior to the Reagan Administration, settled only 23 complaints each year. The victims of discrimination obtained the contested housing in only about one fourth of these contested cases. The most disturbing aspect of the current nearly invisible federal enforcement effort is the total absence of leadership in the quest for equal rights.

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