When President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law in 1968, the act did not include women, families with children and people with disabilities. Since then, advocates and public officials strengthened the act, and today the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development uses these powers to prevent, combat and remedy lending discrimination against pregnant women.
Following a 10-month investigation, my Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) at HUD took a major first step to ensure fair lending for women on maternity leave in a case first brought to national attention in the New York Times. Dr. Elizabeth Budde, an Asian-American immigrant doctor in Seattle, stepped forward after her loan paperwork was stopped by the lender once it learned she was on maternity leave. Despite the fact that she was on paid leave and had other resources which would have qualified her and her family for a loan, a representative of the lender -- a national mortgage lender based in Houston and doing business in 32 states -- asked her to find an additional borrower or not have the loan approved until she went back to her job.
Lenders certainly have the right to verify income and determine creditworthiness. But they may not single out women on maternity leave for special guarantees, ignore their resources or assume that have no income or will not return to work. Settlement with the lender in this case -- Cornerstone Mortgage Company -- provides monetary relief for Dr. Budde, a change in the company policy, new training and a $750,000 fund for other borrowers who may have faced the same treatment during the past two years.
When other mothers, family members, real estate agents and advocates heard about Dr. Budde's situation, they, too, came forward. HUD has also charged Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation (MGIC) of Wisconsin for allegedly denying mortgage insurance unless the borrower returned to work from maternity leave. Other cases are under investigation and we are working to provide relief on behalf of other families discriminated against by illegal policies, and, going forward, change industry practices to end such policies.
Today, homebuyers often do not know that the policies they are faced with may be singling them out based on race, religion, national origin, color, gender, family status or disability -- the protections guaranteed under the Fair Housing Act. That is why public education about rights, remedies, resources and responsibilities under the law is so important.
Our effectiveness on behalf of women on maternity leave and their families would not have been possible without community leaders and organizations like MomsRising, a virtual community of a million moms around the nation who inform and motivate action. Together, we can ensure that the anti-discrimination laws and regulations have life not just in the statute books and federal register but in cities and towns across the nation.
HUD is committed to vigorously enforcing the Fair Housing Act. For more information or if you are a victim of housing discrimination, please call the HUD hot line number: 1-800-669-9777, or visit HUD's website: www.hud.gov/fairhousing.
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