FHANC signed onto an amicus brief filed in the 9th circuit in The City of Oakland v. Wells Fargo case. Though not the direct victim of discrimination, Oakland alleges it was directly harmed with increased servicing costs and decreased tax base when Wells Fargo targeted toxic loans at communities of color. Wells Fargo questions the appropriate standard to employ when evaluating the scope of the City of Oakland’s “proximate cause” to pursue fair housing claims, i.e. whether the harm alleged is sufficiently linked the alleged discriminatory conduct. The amicus brief argues that the Fair Housing Act is a critical tool for challenging segregation and that the Act’s text, history, and broad remedial purpose define the scope of the proper proximate cause analysis.
Read the filed amicus brief below.
By CAROLINE PEATTIE | Published July 8, 2019 at 10:35 am
In April, we celebrated Fair Housing Month and the 51st anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act.
It was passed in 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, to ensure that every American would have equal access to housing and be free from discrimination. Many organizations like Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California have effectively used the act to help eliminate barriers to housing and promote equal opportunity.
Half a century later, it remains one of the most critical pieces of civil rights legislation for advancing racial and other forms of equality, and helps foster stronger and more inclusive communities, essential to our collective success and prosperity. Our nation is becoming more diverse in every way; yet discrimination in housing persists in the rental, lending, sales, and insurance markets. FHANC counsels hundreds of people each year who have experienced housing discrimination.
Today we still struggle with racial and other inequalities – and yet the Trump administration seeks to gut one of the act’s critical tools: the disparate impact rule. At its heart is the notion that, though a policy or practice may appear to be neutral on its face and in its application, it can have a discriminatory effect.
The disparate impact protection in housing is clearly spelled out in regulations and firmly rooted in the law. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development implemented a rule that ensured that housing and related services, such as lending and insurance, are made available in ways that do not adversely impact particular communities protected by the Fair Housing Act.
June 25 marked the anniversary of the 2015 Supreme Court decision reaffirming the use and importance of disparate impact (Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project), where Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, stating that the Fair Housing Act has a “continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society.”
Banking and insurance trade groups are leading the charge to dismantle this key protection. Should President Donald Trump be successful, here are some potential outcomes of the elimination of the rule:
A landlord could exclude applicants without full-time jobs, including seniors and veterans. An insurance company could refuse to insure homes under a certain dollar value. In many communities, this would exclude homes in neighborhoods of color. A landlord could evict a tenant if police were called numerous times, even if that tenant was the victim of abuse seeking protection from their abuser, placing women — the primary victims of domestic abuse — and their children at risk of homelessness and further violence. Gutting the disparate impact protections under the Fair Housing Act is only one part of the Trump Administration’s attack on the use of this civil rights tool. Other areas include education, employment, health, environmental justice, transportation and policing.
Without the use of the disparate impact rule, we will be unable to effectively challenge inequality at the heart of our nation’s gender wage gap, disproportionate discipline of children of color in schools, over-policing of neighborhoods of color, and the nation’s racial wealth gap.
The Trump Administration’s action to gut the disparate impact tool will have a profound, negative effect on the housing choices of millions of Americans of all backgrounds and will undermine equity and equality in our communities for decades to come.
Caroline Peattie, of Mill Valley, is Executive Director for the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
By: Kari Paul, The Gaurdian
Published: April 22, 2019
Is choosing a roommate based on their astrological sign simply a preference, or illegal discrimination? It may depend on where you live.
This week, a post sharing the response to a housing inquiry went viral when the applicant was turned down for their zodiac sign of Capricorn.
“Our main goal is to keep things egalitarian, without anyone being ‘in charge’ or domming the household,” the original poster said. Capricorns are known for being “know-it-alls”, “unforgiving” and condescending as well as good managers, disciplined and self-controlled, according to online astrology resources. “I love capricorns, but I don’t think I could live with one,” the post said.
People often share preferences for certain astrological signs, swearing to never date another Gemini (as pop star Lizzo did on her most recent album). As interest in astrology grows and apps to look up the signs of potential co-workers, partners and housemates become more mainstream, some have speculated that rejecting someone based on their star sign is a form of discrimination.
This argument is legally tenuous at the federal level, said David Levine, a professor who teaches civil procedure law at the University of California Hastings College of Law.“In order for this to be legally considered discrimination, you have to fall within a protected category,” he said. “Otherwise, you can choose to create a housing contract for any reason you want.”
The last time he was looking for a place to live, Jesse, a paralegal based in New York City, found a room in his price range on a queer housing group on Facebook. During the interview with his potential housemates, there was some discussion about everyone’s zodiac signs, something Jesse had not paid much attention to in the past.
But later he got a message saying he wasn’t a good fit for the house, and had a suspicion it was because of his sign (Jesse asked the Guardian to refrain from publishing his last name so no one else finds out he’s an Aries).
“I have no way of knowing not being called back was related to my sign, but it did strike me as an odd thing to ask,” he said. “It’s the kind of situation where I think if my sign matters that much to you, maybe we’re better off not living together. Although I suppose that logic applies to other forms of discrimination.”
The US Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 prohibit discrimination against people under seven “protected categories” including race or color; religion; national origin; familial status or age, disability or handicap, or sex – none of which addresses zodiac signs explicitly.
The closest protection this may hinge on is religion, which is difficult to prove. To discriminate against religions without doing so openly, companies can make buildings less amenable to certain groups. An Orthodox Jewish couple may avoid housing that does not have a Sabbath elevator or some customers may avoid buildings with bad feng shui based on their beliefs, he said. But making a home unwelcoming to certain signs probably doesn’t fall under federal protection, he said.
“This seems like a choice, not discrimination,” he said. “Discrimination is a loaded word, but we discriminate all the time, whether it’s buying a generic brand of corn instead of the brand name. We are constantly making choices, and often this is a perfectly legal choice.”
Many states offer additional protections under housing law, barring people from discrimination due to factors including medical condition, genetic information, marital status or sexual orientation. Under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits “all arbitrary and intentional discrimination by a business establishment”, denying someone a place to live because they are a Capricorn would be illegal, said Caroline Peattie, the executive director at Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California. “This is not a legitimate basis for turning someone down,” she said. “It has nothing to do with their ability to pay rent or be a good tenant.”
Of course, those who believe in astrology are arguing just that – some signs are better tenants or roommates than others. These rules can vary based on kind of home and whether the living space is shared, she said. One exception is gender: people are legally allowed to say they prefer to cohabitate with someone of a certain gender over another. But in Peattie’s view, a zodiac sign is not a legally legitimate reason to turn someone away, and proving otherwise would be difficult in court.
"Clearly the person making the determination says that they think all Capricorns act a certain way,” Peattie, who is a Scorpio, said. “But good luck finding an attorney for that.”
People in the astrology world have spoken out against uses of astrology to turn people down for jobs and homes. Annabel Gat, an astrologer and writer at Vice’s Broadly implored people to “stop using astrology for evil”. Banu Guler, the chief executive officer of Co–Star, an astrology app that just raised over $5m in venture capital funding, said astrology should not be used to discriminate.
“We’re all born under the same sky, and our charts are populated by the same planets,” Guler said. “Astrology is a tool to help people find their way in the world, not to prevent others from participating in it.”
By RICHARD HALSTEAD | email@example.com | Marin Independent Journal
PUBLISHED: April 14, 2019 at 6:33 pm | UPDATED: April 15, 2019 at 6:20 am
As a percentage of the overall population, Marin County has the seventh highest homeless concentration of any county or metropolitan area in the United States, according to a new Bay Area Council Economic Institute report.
“By virtually every measure, the Bay Area’s homeless crisis ranks among the worst in the United States,” the report states.
It notes that the Bay Area has the third largest population of people experiencing homelessness – 28,200 – in the U.S., behind only New York City, 76,500 and Los Angeles, 55,200, according to federally-mandated point-in-time counts. Counts take place every two years. Marin last counted the homeless in January. In 2017, counters found 1,117 homeless people in Marin. In 2015, there were 1,309.
The report presents a series of recommendations for addressing the crisis focusing on the need for fostering more regional collaboration among cities, counties and the state.
“The Bay Area’s homeless crisis is a regional humanitarian crisis that does not abide traditional local boundaries,” Micah Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, said in a statement. “One city, one county alone cannot solve homelessness, but that’s largely how we’ve been approaching it.”
Key recommendations in the report include: creation of a California Homeless Services Agency to consolidate existing state programs; require regional homeless management plans that must be updated every two years; provide a state tax credit program to finance construction of housing for extremely low-income households; significantly increase the supply of permanent supportive housing, emergency and longer-term shelters across the region; explore ways to simplify the approval process for new affordable housing; and improve prevention and diversion programs to keep people experiencing housing insecurity in their homes.
According to the report, 64 percent of Marin’s 10,500 extremely low-income households spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent. The report also states that from 1999 to 2014 Marin jurisdictions fell 2,000 units short of meeting a state target for issuing permits for very low-income affordable housing units.
Ashley Hart McIntyre, the county’s homeless policy analyst, said she’d love to see the creation of a California homeless services agency.
“That would be amazing,” McIntyre said. “Right now we’re managing funds from multiple state agencies that don’t always know what the others are doing.”
McIntyre said as the report mentions the San Francisco nonprofit HomeBase has already begun facilitating meetings between representatives from the Bay Area’s nine counties and 11 largest cities.
“We’ve been meeting quarterly to talk about ways in which regional support can benefit all of us,” McIntyre said. “The primary piece of work we’re starting with is data sharing across county lines.”
McIntyre also said the report’s emphasis on the importance of diversion programs to keep people from falling into homelessness was well-founded. She said Marin County and St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin have recently received state funding for a new local diversion effort.
Andrew Hening, San Rafael’s homeless planning and outreach director, said, “There is a hunger among the providers and the policy makers for more regional and state collaboration; hopefully this report will spark that.”
Hening also liked the report’s emphasis on homelessness prevention. “In San Rafael, we’re looking at things like mandatory mediation and a just cause ordinance,” Hening said. “ It seems those are emerging best practices for prevention.”
Caroline Peattie, executive director for Fair Housing Advocates Northern California, agreed with the report’s finding that an effective measure to keep tenants facing eviction in their homes is to provide them with legal counsel. “If they reach one of our staff members who can help them negotiate a little bit of additional time, that can make all the difference,” Peattie said. “As soon as you’re out and homeless it is way harder to gain some sort of stability.”
Mark Shotwell, Ritter Center’s executive director, said the report correctly points out that more money is needed to adequately fund programs placing the chronically homeless in permanent supportive housing. “The government funding for those approaches is far less than what we need to be able to meet the great need,” Shotwell said.
The report calls for the creation of a funding task force “to illuminate the complete flow of homelessness funds and build an accurate cost-to-serve model” that includes health care, the criminal justice system and housing costs.”
Shotwell said the public needs to know that placing the chronically homeless in housing can actually result in an overall cost savings when such costs as emergency room visits and incarceration are factored in.
By OMAR CARRERA, STEPHANIE HAFFNER, TOM GABLE and CAROLINE PEATTIE |
PUBLISHED: April 10, 2019 at 11:00 am
In the 2015 UC Berkeley report, “Canal: An Immigrant Gateway in San Rafael at Risk,” the pressures facing San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood are forecast as, “a dense, Latin American ethnic enclave … where most households are low-income (a quarter of families fall below the poverty level) and 71 percent of residents have only a high school degree or less. The area has grown over the last 20 years, largely due to immigration: Hispanics have increased from 47 percent of the population in 1990 to 80 percent in 2013. But housing stock has not grown as quickly, owing to how built out the neighborhood is already.”
As a consequence, “Gentrification may well occur here, given its close proximity to the planned site of the downtown San Rafael station for the forthcoming SMART train,” among other factors.
The Canal was designated as an Opportunity Zone by the State of California in 2018. Although the Opportunity Zone was designed to stimulate economic development and job creation in distressed communities, it’s not clear whether these investments will benefit Canal residents or not. In fact, there is a great fear that this investment tool could accelerate the gentrification and displacement that Canal residents are already facing. In the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, officials are clear that existing residents stand to benefit more than be harmed by new investment because they are protected by the city’s renter protections.
Not so in San Rafael. Just this fall, two entire buildings in the Canal (sheltering some 100 households) faced rent increases of 40 and 65 percent. Even when the owner rescinded rent increases, replacing them with no-cause eviction notices, the risks were real. Residents elected not to pursue litigation with an uncertain outcome, and instead negotiated for time to plan for their families and another year’s stability for their children to remain at school. After that, however, their ability to stay in San Rafael — or even in Marin County — is uncertain at best.
Opportunity Zones, the SMART train, limited housing options in Marin, all reflect public policy decisions. Public policy can also protect current residents. In other words, public policy created the market conditions affecting the Canal, and it has just as much of a role in supporting Canal residents. Racial and ethnic minorities, families with children, and people with disabilities – all groups that the Fair Housing Act was designed to protect — suffer disproportionately from the lack of renter protections.
In the last three years, San Rafael has been an example in the county for its efforts to end the chronic homelessness in Marin. Strengthening tenants’ rights will complement these previous efforts, reduce housing instability and prevent homelessness. It just makes sense that this would have a longer-term stabilizing effect on the community.
San Rafael has the historic opportunity to enact strong renter protections to protect its current residents and its diversity — a renowned heart and soul of Marin County.
We urge the city to enact protections — as most other Bay Area communities have — that will:
Omar Carrera is CEO of Canal Alliance; Stephanie Haffner is executive director of Legal Aid of Marin; Tom Gable is Marin Lutheran Church pastor and Marin Organizing Committee member; Caroline Peattie is executive director for Fair Housing Advocates Northern California.
Support the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance at the Fairfax Town Council Meeting
By ADRIAN RODRIGUEZ | firstname.lastname@example.org | Marin Independent Journal
PUBLISHED: December 2, 2018 at 12:48 pm | UPDATED: December 3, 2018 at 6:46 am
San Anselmo has joined a growing list of Marin cities in prohibiting landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants who use Section 8 housing vouchers. The Town Council last week voted 3-1, with Councilman Ford Greene recusing himself and Matt Brown dissenting, to approve the fair housing ordinance, similar to rules passed in Fairfax and Novato and by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.
A second reading is scheduled for the council’s December meeting; the rule will take effect 30 days after final approval.
Councilman Brian Colbert said he’s seen no evidence that rental discrimination based on source of income is an issue in San Anselmo. He said after speaking with landlords in town, he has heard no major complaints about the ordinance. “I do think as a policy statement, I support the ordinance,” he said.
Greene, who is a Section 8 landlord in town, recused himself from the vote, but commented as a member of the public. “I think it’s a good ordinance,” he said. “If I were voting, I would urge you to approve it.”
Brown, who is also a landlord, said that he wasn’t ready to support the ordinance. He said he was unclear on what protections property owners have when a tenant damages property.
State law already prohibits housing discrimination based on source of income, but that rule does not protect those who use third-party subsidies, such as Section 8 vouchers. The ordinance makes it illegal for property owners to advertise that they do not accept Section 8 vouchers or change a lease agreement based on the subsidy. Landlords can still screen tenants based on factors like credit score, rental history and references, said Sarah Price, associate planner.
Price said, for context, that between 2014 and 2016 about half of the county’s nearly 2,200 voucher holders weren’t able to find landlords willing to accept vouchers, which resulted in them losing their vouchers. The county, which adopted its rules in 2016, has called on other communities to follow suit in order to create uniform protections throughout the county. State law does have anti-discrimination protections in place for tenants, but those do not cover Section 8 housing vouchers.
By Caroline Peattie, of Mill Valley, is executive director of San Rafael-based Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.
The Marin Board of Supervisors is scheduled Tuesday to consider a “just cause for eviction” ordinance that would require a landlord to state a legitimate reason for terminating a renter’s tenancy.
Most people know that Marin renters face a housing crisis, given the scarcity of housing combined with unaffordable rental prices. Renters are vulnerable, and unlike homeowners, even if they pay their bills on time and maintain the property they live in, they can be given notice to move with no reason at all. Worse, if a landlord is evicting tenants for a discriminatory reason or in retaliation – both of which are illegal – the burden is on the tenant to prove it, something that can be difficult, if not impossible, to do.
We want our children to attend school without disruption, for seniors to have continuity of care and support, and people who provide
important services in Marin to have stability in their housing. And housing instability disproportionately affects the most vulnerable members of our community — families with children, people of color, and individuals with disabilities, many of whom are seniors.
Marin County, already lacking in diversity, risks continuing to lose ground. (See, for example, Advancement Project’s “Race Counts” at racecounts.org/county/marin, which identified Marin County as the most racially disparate county in the state, or KQED’s 2017 podcast and article, “Why is Marin County So White?”
Marin County has passed other ordinances protecting tenants through its mandatory rent mediation program and its ordinance prohibiting discrimination against those with housing subsidies. But rent mediation without just cause for eviction does not truly protect renters, as property owners who want to raise rent without mediation can simply serve a no-cause notice to vacate.