Written by Caroline Peattie, Executive Director
It has been a crushing week following isolating and dark months of the pandemic. We are reeling from the police brutality that led to the senseless murder of George Floyd, and the country has erupted in protest, not only because of his death, but also because of the killing of Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, and countless other Black men and women who came before him. It is no coincidence that protests follow months of a pandemic that have brought into focus the very issues that so many have been fighting against: the racial disparities underlying the disproportionate occurrence of the virus and death rates among people of color. George Floyd lost his job as a result of this virus, reminding us of the deep inequities in our country — lack of access to housing of choice, health care, transportation, protections in the work place, and injustices that most affect people of color and vulnerable communities, not to mention an unequal criminal justice system that leads to mass detention and incarceration of Black men. Further, we now know that prisons are hotspots for outbreaks of COVID-19.
In these moments, I am reminded of how these injustices connect to the work my colleagues and I undertake daily, and how we as a community can and should respond. Our collective work is pivotal to the response. Housing is a key part of the struggle.
What can we do? This is a question that has plagued and pained many of us not just in these last weeks, but for decades. The news has been soul-crushing, particularly when, instead of exhibiting any understanding or leadership, Trump calls for a militarized response to peaceful protesters with the infamous words, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” repeating a 1967 quote from a white police chief cracking down on protests and other segregationist politicians.
I remind myself how important it is for us to make our voices heard — whether by shouting George Floyd’s name, joining protesters, posting on social media, reaching out to our local, state, and national representatives with our voices and our votes — working in any way we can to dismantle the structural racism that allows tragedies like the killing of George Floyd and others, and fails to hold police and leaders accountable. Amplifying the message, so everyone hears and understands: Black Lives Matter. I am recommitting myself to anti-racist work. I live in a county where most people are white, and many who live here don’t understand the history of institutionalized racialism, and the multiplicity of ways in which our whiteness allows us privilege that we don’t even have to think about; whereas many of our Black and Brown friends and colleagues are confronted by the lack of them daily. As a white person, it’s my job to work hard to change that. For white members of our community who want to know what they can do, right now, start with something from this list: https://bit.ly/370uzO0.
We know that our country’s racist housing policies are directly connected to racial inequities and to the disinvestment and over-policing of Black and Brown communities. We at Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California recommit ourselves to our work to address structural racism and the racial disparities resulting from segregation and discrimination. This includes taking a serious look at how we do our work, how we can become more effective as individuals and as institutions, and how we can partner with others in more inclusive, meaningful, and powerful ways. I invite you to join me in this work.
Written by Caroline Peattie, Executive Director
In the midst of the pandemic and two days after the killing of George Floyd, the world lost a fair housing warrior and I lost a dear friend. Nancy Kenyon passed away peacefully at home surrounded by family last week.
When I first met Nancy almost 3 decades ago, I was the Executive Director of a fair housing agency in Oakland. We immediately hit it off and began working together on a shared project. It was a wonderful collaboration and I was extremely impressed with Nancy’s energy and vibrant personality.
Nancy managed, in a small organization, to retain many highly competent and committed staff members for years, and in many cases, well over a decade — probably because of the outstanding qualities that she exuded as a person, as well as the easy, yet caring and committed work environment she created to inspire others.
As one long-time staffer said, “What I most appreciate about Nancy is her deep belief in justice and civil rights and her willingness to defend these beliefs, her ability to look at obstacles as challenges,” — and I would add, “opportunities”— “the connections she easily makes with diverse groups of people of all ages, her gracious and relaxed leadership style, her adventurousness and love of life.”
Nancy saw the humanity in people and really listened to people’s stories about themselves, and this manifested in the workplace in a variety of ways — including allowing for flexibility in schedules and work styles. It’s no wonder that she had a number of working mothers on her staff over time, because she allowed them to reach their working potential and be mothers, too. When, shortly after beginning my tenure at the agency, my 18-month-old baby was diagnosed with diabetes and hospitalized, Nancy couldn’t have been more supportive. That support continued through the years as I raised a child with special needs. Her love of her own family — and she was so proud of her kids! — expanded to include her extended work family; we responded with loyalty and respect.
Nancy remained an unabashed hippie over the decades, and she represented some of the best things about the 1960s – a certain kind of openness, optimism, and passion for activism. Her experience working on civil rights issues before there were the laws to back up those rights gave her a rare perspective.
Intrepid traveler that she was, her adventurous spirit took her wandering all over the world. She returned refreshed, regaling us with tales of her adventures. She was an avid birder and loved nature.
Nancy also had colorful stories to tell of her earlier years – being arrested for blocking a train carrying munitions (and even in prison, of course, they all took care of one another); working in New Jersey at a housing rights agency, where she and other staff told members of the mafia what they were doing wrong as landlords, then quaking with fear that their cars would explode when they turned the key in the ignition that night.
Perhaps it was some of these early experiences that helped shape some of her toughness. It took some doing to begin her fair housing work as a small program in 1982 that was part of a much larger umbrella organization, and then build it into the thriving and multi-faceted organization it became. Although we often heard Nancy’s peals of laughter ringing through the agency, there were times when she was tough as nails. She was not only the founder of our fair housing agency, but she was also a founding member and board member of the National Fair Housing Alliance, the sole national organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing.
It has been an honor to follow in her footsteps. Nancy Kenyon will be sorely missed. I am only one of many she touched deeply.
Because of Covid-19 the family will not hold a celebration of life until a future date; if anyone has photos or stories please send them to her children at email@example.com or mail to 1375 Masonic Ave, San Francisco, CA 94117 or give them a call at 415-592-4581. If anyone is interested in making a donation in her name, please give to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to Ben Carson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, blasting the agency’s delayed release of the Notice of Funding Availability for fiscal year 2019 (FY19) funding for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP).
"Last year, our nation experienced an 8 percent uptick in reported complaints of housing discrimination, increasing from 28,843 in 2017 to 31,202 in 2018—the highest annual number ever recorded by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA)," wrote Chairwoman Waters. "Private, nonprofit fair housing organizations were responsible for 75 percent of housing discrimination complaint intake in the nation during 2018 alone. Yet, HUD has delayed the sole public funding stream for many of the organizations responsible for this work. These funding delays will debilitate nearly one-third of all full-service fair housing organizations, which rely on 3-year grant funding from HUD’s FHIP Private Enforcement Initiative that is set to end this year."
In November, Waters and every Democratic Member of the Committee wrote a letter to Ben Carson, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, slamming the agency’s proposed changes to the disparate impact standard under the Fair Housing Act, which would make it harder for everyday Americans who find themselves victims of housing discrimination to get justice.
In April, Waters convened a full Committee hearing to examine efforts to eliminate discrimination and promote opportunities in housing. In her opening statement, she listed examples of the Trump Administration’s attacks on fair housing.
During the 115th Congress, Waters introduced the Restoring Fair Housing Protections Eliminated by HUD Act, a bill to put protections that Ben Carson and the Trump Administration have diminished back in place.
See the full text of the letter below.The Honorable Dr. Benjamin S. Carson
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20410-0001
Dear Secretary Carson:
It has come to my attention that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) has delayed the release of the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for fiscal year 2019 (FY19) Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP). The failure to timely release the NOFA is part of an ongoing trend of delays in recent years. I write to request the immediate release of the FHIP NOFA for FY 2019.
Last year, our nation experienced an 8 percent uptick in reported complaints of housing discrimination, increasing from 28,843 in 2017 to 31,202 in 2018—the highest annual number ever recorded by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA).1 Private, nonprofit fair housing organizations were responsible for 75 percent of housing discrimination complaint intake in the nation during 2018 alone. Yet, HUD has delayed the sole public funding stream for many of the organizations responsible for this work. These funding delays will debilitate nearly one-third of all full-service fair housing organizations, which rely on 3-year grant funding from HUD’s FHIP Private Enforcement Initiative that is set to end this year.
NFHA estimates that the NOFA delay will result in at least a 6-month funding gap for PEI organizations, forcing them to lay off essential staff, reduce service area footprints, and halt services entirely for victims of housing discrimination. Gaps in essential funding not only deplete fair housing organizations’ reserves, creating uncertainty and staff turnover, but similar delays in the FY18 FHIP NOFA forced some fair housing organizations to take out lines of credit, on which they incur interest, to ensure their ability to offer quality counseling, investigation, and enforcement of complaints of housing discrimination.2 In other words, HUD’s failure to timely release these funds will undermine fair housing enforcement in this country in very tangible ways.
Each year, HUD has the responsibility of releasing 23 annual NOFAs. Of those 23 FY19 NOFAs, the FHIP NOFA is the only one that has not been released. This is a needless and unacceptable blow to fair housing enforcement in this country and I urge you to release the FY19 FHIP NOFA immediately. Additionally, please respond to this letter with a specific explanation as to HUD’s failure to release this final FY19 FHIP NOFA in a timely manner, as well as HUD’s plan for avoiding such delays in the future. If you have any questions about this letter, please contact Alia Fierro with my staff at (202) 225-4247.
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.”