Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

HUD Backs Away from Controversial Speech Ban

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

HUD Backs Away from Controversial Speech Ban

Article excerpt

Responding to concerns raised by municipal officials, individuals and groups, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last week issued guidelines to restrict HUD investigations of municipalities, groups, and individuals engaged in political activity on housing issues. The Department announced it would cease investigating complaints involving activities protected by the First Amendment--such as communicating with local elected officials or testifying before city councils.

HUD had recently come under fire by proponents of free speech for prosecuting concerned neighborhood residents who organized campaigns to block siting of group homes or half-way houses in their neighborhoods. In some cases, those charged accumulated large legal bills fighting the allegations and then were told charges would be dropped in exchange for their silence on siting plans for any such facilities.

The announcement did not clarify whether there would be any change in HUD's investigation and enforcement actions against cities attempting to enforce local land use and zoning ordinances involving group homes.

The guidelines, issued by HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Roberta Achtenberg, are the first instructions ever given to its field employees to ensure the protection of free speech rights during federal fair housing investigations. They state that, other than in cases involving force, physical harm, or a clear threat of force or physical harm, HUD will not accept for filing or investigate any complaint involving public activities that are directed toward achieving action by a governmental entity or official. …

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