The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Thursday announced a new series of initiatives designed to crack down on sexual harassment across the housing landscape, working in partnership with the Department of Justice (DOJ). This new push will encompass an interagency task force, an outreach toolkit, and a public awareness campaign.
“All discrimination stains the very fabric of our nation, but HUD is especially focused on protecting the right of everyone to feel safe and secure in their homes, free from unwanted sexual harassment,” said Secretary Ben Carson. “No person should have to tolerate unwanted sexual advances in order to keep a roof over his or her head. Part of our mission at HUD is to provide safe housing and we will remain diligent in this mission to protect those we serve. I look forward to working with Attorney General Sessions and the Department of Justice as part of this task force to bring an end to this type of discrimination.”
Thursday’s announcement follows up on the Justice Department’s renewed focus on combating sexual harassment in the housing space, first initiated in October 2017. The DOJ initiative “sought to increase the Department’s efforts to protect women from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners,” according to the HUD statement.
The DOJ initiative oversaw the launch of pilot programs in the District of Columbia and the Western District of Virginia. Collectively, the two pilot programs generated nine leads since they began. The HUD statement continues, “While the Justice Department recognizes that leads and investigations do not always lead to enforcement actions, the pilot program’s results—when extrapolated across all the U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country—could lead to hundreds of new reports of sexual harassment in housing across the country.”
The newly announced HUD-DOJ Task Force to Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing will focus on five key areas: “continued data sharing and analysis, joint development of training, evaluation of public housing complaint mechanisms, coordination of public outreach and press strategy, and review of federal policies.”
The outreach program will help provide templates, guidance, and checklists based on pilot program feedback to the DOJ’s national network of U.S. Attorney’s Offices. According to the HUD statement, this will “amplify available enforcement resources and help victims of sexual harassment connect with the Department.”
Finally, the public outreach component will include items such as public service announcements and the launch of a social media campaign.
“Sexual harassment in housing is illegal, immoral, and unacceptable," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “It is all too common today, as too many landlords, managers, and their employees attempt to prey on vulnerable women. We will not hesitate to pursue these predators and enforce the law. In October, I ordered a new initiative to bring more of these cases, and we have already won relief for 15 victims. Today we announce three new steps to make the initiative more effective and to win more cases. I want to thank the dedicated and committed professionals in our Civil Rights Division and our partners in the Department of Housing and Urban Development for their hard work in this effort. We will continue to aggressively pursue harassers, because everyone has a right to be safe in their home.”