HUD’s Moving to Work (MTW) Office has been busy! Earlier this month, HUD published for public comment a revised Operations Notice that will govern an expanded MTW program. Just a few days ago, HUD published the much-awaited notice inviting the first round of new applicants for the expanded MTW program. Continue Reading HUD Publishes MTW Operations Notice and Request for First Round of New MTW Applicants

Most websites for housing providers and other businesses should be accessible to individuals with disabilities. But how is this enforced? On September 25, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a letter to a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in which it took the position that “noncompliance with a voluntary technical standard for website accessibility does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA.” The DOJ’s position, significantly, does not require conformance with the voluntary Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to comply with the ADA in all instances. The DOJ expressly allows for flexibility in how individuals with disabilities are provided access to digital and online content, but does not provide guidance in the implementation of such flexibility.

The DOJ’s letter responds to a June 2018 inquiry from members of the House of Representatives from both parties, which asked the DOJ to “state publicly that private legal action under the ADA with respect to websites is unfair and violates basic due process principles” absent clear guidance from the DOJ on website accessibility. In its response, the DOJ noted that for more than 20 years, the DOJ has interpreted the ADA to apply to websites of places of public accommodation. The DOJ’s response also clarified that the absence of a specific regulation does not mean that websites are not subject to the ADA’s accessibility requirements. The DOJ indicated in its letter a willingness to work with Congress on legislative action to address the increased website accessibility litigation risk faced by businesses.

The flexible approach to website accessibility expressed by the DOJ provides businesses with additional opportunities to review ADA accessibility compliance programs, as well as responses to increased litigation risk regarding the accessibility of websites.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Accessibility Group regularly assist housing providers and other clients in defending against website accessibility demand letters and litigation, and advise clients on ADA accessibility policies and procedures.

 

The Census Bureau, in conjunction with researchers from Harvard and Brown Universities, this week published a national “opportunity atlas” that tracks outcomes for children in adulthood based on nationwide data. The atlas can be used to find, down to the census tract level, information on positive and negative outcomes for children, with information such as earnings, incarceration rates by parental income, race and gender. See also the New York Times discussion of how the Seattle Housing Authority is using the atlas to allow higher housing choice voucher rents in certain neighborhoods.  Pretty interesting data as we start to implement Opportunity Zones, revise the affirmatively furthering fair housing rule, consider small area FMRs for the voucher program, and plan for new affordable housing developments.

A pending lawsuit against HUD challenging its suspension of its local tool for affirmative fair housing assessments has been dismissed.  Earlier this year, HUD first extended the deadlines for, then withdrew, its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Local Government Assessment Tool, which had been the subject of some controversy related to the reporting burden associated with the tool and other criticisms.  The Local Government Assessment Tool is to be used by cities and other entities that receive Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Emergency Solutions Grants, or Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS formula funding from HUD.  Advocates challenged HUD’s actions in a lawsuit.

Last week, the court granted HUD’s motion to dismiss the case. The court found that HUD had authority to withdraw the tool.

The dismissal comes as HUD has reopened the 2015 AFFH regulations for public comment.  Comments are due October 15, 2018, and we encourage all who are interested in this topic to submit comments.

 

As indicated earlier this week, HUD is seeking comments to inform revisions to its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. We have been waiting for official publication of the advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register to determine when these comments will be due. HUD today published the ANPR.  We now know comments are due October 15, 2018.

Yesterday, HUD announced that it intends to amend its 2015 regulations on affirmatively furthering fair housing, or AFFH. HUD is giving the public 60 days from publication of its advance notice of proposed rulemaking to provide comments on the current AFFH rule.  HUD seeks comments that will help it revise the rule to:

  • “Minimize regulatory burden” while more effectively fulfilling the AFFH requirements
  • Focus on “positive results” rather than “analysis of community characteristics”
  • Allow “greater local control and innovation”
  • Increase housing choice, including greater supply
  • “More efficiently use HUD resources”

This announcement comes after HUD first extended the deadlines for, then withdrew, its AFFH Local Government Assessment Tool, which had been the subject of some controversy related to the reporting burden associated with the tool and other criticisms.  The Local Government Assessment Tool is to be used by cities and other entities that receive Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Emergency Solutions Grants, or Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS formula funding from HUD.  HUD’s announcement also comes while HUD is being sued by advocacy groups related to these actions regarding the assessment tool.

The 2015 AFFH rule contemplated that public housing authorities, states and insular areas would also use a different tool to conduct assessments of fair housing, but those tools have not yet been finalized.

These actions by HUD do not eliminate the Fair Housing Act’s requirements for recipients of HUD funds to affirmatively further fair housing. Indeed, most recipients certify that they further fair housing in connection with various applications for HUD funds and other HUD submissions. Instead, HUD’s actions return most entities to the requirements in effect prior to the 2015 rule, in which they must conduct an analysis of impediments rather than use an assessment tool.

We are working on comments on the AFFH rule, and encourage any entities impacted by the AFFH rule to consider commenting on it.

Ballard Spahr lawyers, Molly Bryson, Doug Fox, Wendi Kotzen and Linda Schakel, recently offered a  presentation regarding the Opportunity Zones established as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act .  As a new program established to encourage capital investment in the over 8,700 Opportunity Zones selected by each of the states, District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions, this new program has the potential to provide investors in Opportunity Funds with deferral of tax on gains rolled over into an Opportunity Fund and potential elimination of tax on the appreciation recognized on the investment in the Opportunity Fund. Opportunity Funds and their investors will be looking to make investments in businesses and property located in Opportunity Zones. Investments in Opportunity Zones could be used in conjunction with the low-income housing tax credit and help bolster affordable housing and community development projects in these neighborhoods.

The linked materials and the session recording provide steps you can take to benefit from this new federal tax program, including:

·        Establishing and qualifying an Opportunity Fund

·        Investing gains into Opportunity Funds

·        Obtaining the maximum benefit of investing in Opportunity Funds

·        Structuring Opportunity Fund investments

·        Locating designated Opportunity Zones

·        Positioning your business or property to qualify as eligible for investment capital from an Opportunity Fund

·        Combining the benefits of an Opportunity Zone with other federal tax programs, such as Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), Historic Tax Credits, and New Markets Tax Credits.

Should you have a project that you think could benefit from Opportunity Zones investments or are seeking ways to facilitate investments, please reach out to members of the Ballard Spahr team for guidance and help brainstorming around issues and questions.

Today, HUD issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking requesting public comments to its 2013 Final Rule which implemented the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard. HUD indicates this rulemaking is in light of the Supreme Court’s  2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., which held that disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act. HUD is reexamining its rule to determine if any changes may be necessary.

HUD is specifically requesting public comments to the following six questions:

  1. Does the Disparate Impact Rule’s burden of proof standard for each of the three steps of its burden-shifting framework clearly assign burdens of production and burdens of persuasion, and are such burdens appropriately assigned?
  2. Are the second and third steps of the Disparate Impact Rule’s burden-shifting framework sufficient to ensure that only challenged practices that are artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers result in disparate impact liability?
  3. Does the Disparate Impacts Rule’s definition of “discriminatory effect” in 24 CFR 100.500(a) in conjunction with the burden of proof for stating a prima facie case in 24 CFR 100.500(c) strike the proper balance in encouraging legal action for legitimate disparate impact cases while avoiding unmeritorious claims?
  4. Should the Disparate Impact Rule be amended to clarify the causality standard for stating a prima facie case under Inclusive Communities and other Supreme Court rulings?
  5. Should the Disparate Impact Rule provide defenses or safe harbors to claims of disparate impact liability (such as, for example, when another federal statute substantially limits a defendant’s discretion or another federal statute requires adherence to state statutes)?
  6. Are there revisions to the Disparate Impact Rule that could add to the clarity, reduce uncertainty, decrease regulatory burden, or otherwise assist the regulated entities and other members of the public in determining what is lawful?

The 60 day comment period ends on August 20, 2018. Interested persons can submit comments to HUD electronically through http://www.regulations.gov or by mail.

 Ballard has been closely monitoring potential changes to the Rule and will continue to do so. We will also continue to work with clients on issues pertaining to the Rule.

On March 23, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (H.R. 1625), a $1.3 trillion dollar spending bill that funds the federal government through September 30, 2018. In addition to preventing a government shutdown, this omnibus spending bill incorporated the following key provisions that help to strengthen and expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC):

  • A 12.5% increase in the annual per capita LIHTC allocation ceiling (after any increases due to the applicable cost of living adjustment) for calendar years 2018 to 2021.
  • An expansion of the definition of the minimum set-aside test by incorporating a third optional test, the income-averaging test. Pursuant to the Code, a project meets the 40-60 minimum set aside test when 40% of the units in the project are both rent restricted and income restricted at 60% of the area median income. Under the new law, the income test is also met if the average of all the apartments within the property, rather than every individual tax credit unit, equals 60% of the area median income. Notwithstanding, the maximum income to qualify for any tax credit unit is limited to 80% of area median income.

This legislation is a great win for affordable housing advocates who have been pushing for LIHTC improvements through the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, introduced in both the Senate (S. 548 sponsored by Senators Cantwell and Hatch) and the House (H.R. 1661 now sponsored by Congressmen Curbelo and Neal) in 2017, as discussed previously in a prior blog post.

We will continue to provide updates on legislation related to Tax Reform. Just in case you missed it, last month Ballard Spahr hosted a webinar on the impact of Tax Reform on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit with our colleagues from RubinBrown LLP, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. and Red Stone Equity Partners. Presentation slides and a recording of the webinar are available on our event page.

This week, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) announced a settlement of a lawsuit against Travelers Indemnity Company in which it alleged that Travelers engaged in discriminatory conduct in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  NFHA accused Travelers of refusing to provide habitational insurance policies to District of Columbia landlords that rent to tenants who use Housing Choice Vouchers.  NFHA claimed that this policy had a disparate impact on African-Americans and women and served no legitimate business purpose. It was also alleged that the practice violated local fair housing law.

Among other provisions of the settlement, Travelers has agreed not to ask about the source of income of residents at D.C. properties that it considers insuring.  We would note that source of income discrimination is prohibited in the District of Columbia, but is not a federally protected class.

Our friends at the Ballard Consumer Finance Monitor have posted additional information about the lawsuit and the settlement.