Former HHA Executive Director claimed she was wrongfully terminated for helping minority families
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that the city of Hammond, Indiana, and the Hammond Housing Authority (HHA) agreed to pay Maria Becerra, the former executive director of HHA $200,000 to settle allegations the city and HHA terminated her employment because she administered a HUD-funded rental assistance program that helped minority familiesmove into predominantly white neighborhoods In addition, HHA agreed to reopen its Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program waiting list and inform the public about the reopening of the list.
In March 2012, Becerra filed a complaint with HUD alleging that in December of 2011 she was wrongfully terminated from her position as Executive Director of the HHA because she assisted persons using HCVs in finding housing in the Hammond neighborhood of their choice. Becerra further alleged that the mayor of Hammond made public statements supporting her ouster, claiming that the HCV program had grown “out of control” and “exploded” during her tenure.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status. The Act also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person for supporting the housing rights of others. In addition, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.
“HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program is designed to help lower income families find housing in safe neighborhoods and climb the ladder of social and economic opportunity,” said Bryan Greene, HUD's Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "We’re pleased that, under this Agreement, the HHA commits itself to implement this program in a fair manner and provide greater housing choices for families of all backgrounds.”
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is HUD’s major rental assistance vehicle for assisting low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities to obtain affordable housing in the private rental market. Rental assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, allowing program participants to find their own rental housing, including single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments.
Under the terms of the Conciliation Agreement and Voluntary Compliance Agreement that settled these allegations,relevant city and HHA staff and board members will receive fair housing training; the Mayor of Hammond will issue a public statement in support of HCVs and the HCV program in Hammond; the cityand HHA will sponsor a public outreach forum to encourage landlord participation in the HCV program; and HHA will expend at least 97 percent of its annual HCV budget each year.