Supporters mount fight to save Arkansas Fair Housing Commission | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Supporters mount fight to save Arkansas Fair Housing Commission

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 7:19 AM

click to enlarge screen_shot_2017-03-08_at_7.16.26_am.png
Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton this week filed legislation (HB 2053) to abolish the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission and the bill is on the agenda of the House State Agencies committee this morning.

click to enlarge COMMISSION DIRECTOR: Carol Johnson.
Advocates of fair housing are working to save the agency. The bill is not a money saver. The agency, established by legislation signed by Gov. Mike Huckabee, requires little state general revenue. It would put its work in an agency, Development Finance, that provides money for housing developers and has no expertise in providing information about fair housing protection or representation for those who might need help.

An advocate provides a list, excerpted, on reasons to preserve this agency:

The Commission enforces civil rights legislation regarding all real estate-related and banking-related transactions (real estate brokering, financial engagements, lending services, appraisal, architectural design and the development of both public and private single-family and multi-family housing developments) and specifically provides enforcement authority over transactions in which ADFA plays an integral role. It’s quasi-judicial, its responsibilities are inherently judicial in nature and include the regulatory authority to hold hearings on and conduct investigations into disputed claims and alleged infractions of rules and regulations and to make decisions in the general manner of courts.

Here’s why the bill hurts Arkansas:

· It eliminates the Commission which is the sole civil rights enforcement agency in the state

· It seizes all Commission assets and places those funds within ADFA’s sole discretion

· It creates an inherent conflict of interest when enforcement is placed with the agency designated to finance housing providers and the housing industry (ADFA)

· ADFA has been the subject of fair housing complaints (respondent) and will continue to be a potential respondent because of its mission

· Repeals the Arkansas Education Trust Fund and ADFA just absorbs these funds…(Ethical consideration as they are not being used for the purpose for which they were established and intended)

· Eliminates all statutory requirements to provide public awareness of fair housing laws and protections

· Eliminates autonomy necessary for effective civil rights enforcement (the AG’s office recognizes this conflict)

End civil rights enforcement? That's in vogue these days, from the U.S. Justice Department on down. More about the commission here.

Hammer took his late-arriving bill to committee this morning. He said it would save the state money, but Carol Johnson, director of the commission, said the agency was federally funded and support from money raised by its activities. She said a move to ADFA would put "the fox in charge of the henhouse.:

Hammer referred to legislative audits that raised questions about some bookkeeping issues. Johnson acknowledged them, saying they resulted from being a small agency with a small staff. Republicans also have been unhappy because the Commission several years ago bought an ad providing information about the agency's work in a program fore a dinner by the Black Legislative Caucus.

"There's no doubt we provide a beneficial service," Johnson said. But she said she'd been unable to get approval for staffing.

Rep. Doug House wanted to know why Hammer wouldn't simply transfer financial oversight, rather than all powers, to ADFA. Hammer said it was more efficient to transfer everything.

Hammer emphasized the audit findings and said ADFA would do a better job.

Rep. Warwick Sabin raised questions about the conflict of interest in putting the agency in another agency that makes loans to housing developers; about its ability to handle the new work, and whether federal money would be lost with the move. "We should make sure we're not putting the duties of this agency into jeopardy," he said. He noted ADFA didn't have a representative at the meeting.

The committee approved the bill on a voice vote.

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