U.S. Housing Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. has treated the issue of fair housing like a traveling circus. As Times staff writer Claire Spiegel reports, Pierce has journeyed to eight cities including Los Angeles to talk, and just talk, about housing discrimination during gatherings complete with balloons and fancy luncheons.
The talks weren't cheap. Housing officials spent roughly $1 million, but they didn't bill it to the taxpayers. Friends did a little arm-twisting to raise the money from developers, contractors and realtors--who can benefit from housing policies--without any public accounting of the fund-raising. That cozy arrangement smacks of a conflict of interest and hints at a revival of unsavory patronage.
Pierce should have saved the arm-twisting for realtors who want to circumvent or water down the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. Although sound in principle, the law lacks the tough enforcement powers needed to make it really work so that more communities are truly integrated.
Under the law, the Justice Department can file lawsuits challenging an alleged pattern of housing discrimination. Those suits, rare because of competing civil-rights issues, plod through the courts for years. Individuals can also file suits in federal court if they have the money, the access to legal expertise and the endurance. Prospective home-buyers and tenants can also complain to the Housing and Urban Development Department, but the agency cannot impose penalties.