HUD, DOJ Announce Initiative to Fight Sexual Harassment in Housing

April 19, 2018
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HUD and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced the nationwide rollout of an initiative aimed at increasing awareness and reporting of sexual harassment in housing. The announcement includes an interagency task force between the HUD and the DOJ to combat sexual harassment in housing, an outreach toolkit, and a public awareness campaign.

In October 2017, the DOJ started a pilot program to combat sexual harassment in housing in D.C. and the Western District of Virginia. The initiative sought to increase the Department's efforts to protect women from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners. During the pilots, the DOJ developed and tested ways to better connect both with victims of sexual harassment in housing and with those organizations that victims may turn to first for help—including law enforcement, legal services providers, public housing authorities, sexual assault services providers, and shelters. The Department also tested certain aspects of the initiative in other jurisdictions, including New Jersey, the Central District of California, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Michigan.

The two pilot programs generated an upswing in harassment reporting to the Department from both D.C. and the Western District of Virginia. In D.C., the Department generated six leads since the October 2017 launch. In Virginia, the Department generated three leads. While the Justice Department recognizes that leads and investigations don’t always lead to enforcement actions, the pilot program's results—when extrapolated across all the U.S. Attorney's Offices across the country—could lead to hundreds of new reports of sexual harassment in housing across the country.

Because of these promising results, the Department is rolling out three major components to the Initiative.

First, the new HUD-DOJ Task Force to Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing will drive a shared strategy between the Department and HUD for combatting sexual harassment in housing across the country. It will focus on five key areas: (1) continued data sharing and analysis; (2) joint development of training; (3) evaluation of public housing complaint mechanisms; (4) coordination of public outreach and press strategy; and (5) review of federal policies.

Second, the outreach toolkit is designed to leverage HUD and Justice Department's nationwide network of U.S. Attorney's Offices. The toolkit provides templates, guidance, and checklists based on pilot program feedback. It ultimately will amplify available enforcement resources and help victims of sexual harassment connect with the Department.

Third, the public awareness campaign has three major components: a partnership package with relevant stakeholders, launch of a social media campaign, and Public Service Announcements (PSAs) run by the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. The campaign is specifically designed to raise awareness, and make it easier for victims all over the country to find resources and report harassment.