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.