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An Arkansas nonprofit received a federal grant for more than $280,000 to battle housing discrimination, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Wednesday.

HUD gave Legal Aid of Arkansas a $281,396, three-year grant to do education and outreach, conduct investigations and take on more housing-discrimination cases under the federal Fair Housing Act, said Jason Auer, the nonprofit's staff attorney who specializes in housing issues.

The federal law, enacted in 1968, prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, disability, religion, sex, familial status or national origin. It covers instances of renting a home, buying a home, obtaining a mortgage or applying for rental assistance, among other things.

HUD on Wednesday awarded more than $15 million in grants through its Fair Housing Initiatives Program to agencies across the country. The largest was for $999,995 at the National Fair Housing Alliance in Washington, D.C., according to a department news release.

Legal Aid began its fair-housing program about a year and a half ago, Auer said. The program began with a grant from the Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation and expanded with a $125,000 HUD grant received in March 2018.

The program started primarily as an education and outreach effort, and the group took on a few discrimination complaints, Auer said. The education efforts will continue with the new grant.

"If everyone is more aware of what the law is, there will be fewer violations of the Fair Housing Act," he added.

The new grant allows Legal Aid to do "fair housing testing," which means staff members will systematically investigate whether communities and organizations are violating the act.

Legal Aid will also have the money to take on more housing-discrimination cases, Auer said. The group gets between 12 and 15 calls per month about the issue, and has four cases in active litigation and seven pending.

Fair-housing complaints can go to HUD departments for judgment or be tried in court.

The grants were announced during National Fair Housing Month and just a couple of days before HUD Secretary Ben Carson is scheduled to visit Little Rock. Auer said Carson is going to present Legal Aid with the grant award Friday.

The annual Fair Housing Conference began Tuesday and will last until Friday.

Metro on 04/18/2019

Print Headline: Nonprofit gets HUD funding

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