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“Disparate Impact” Rule Would Perpetuate Housing Discrimination, Rolls Back Decades-Old Civil Rights Protections in Housing Industry

MONTGOMERY, Ala—A proposed “disparate impact” rule by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would weaken the standard to test if a housing policy unfairly discriminates on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap or family status. 

The policy, adopted in 2013 to memorialize long-standing court rulings and practice, reiterated that HUD and an individual have a right to recourse if a seller, landlord, or financial institution discriminates, even if that discrimination is unintentional.  The proposed rule would make it harder to prove discrimination.  Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed comments opposed to the new rule.   

“The Trump administration’s attack on people of color continues, this time through making it easier to discriminate in the housing, insurance, and banking industries,” said Sam Brooke, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  “This new HUD rule rolls back decades of civil rights protections through a simple executive decision without any concern for the people it will impact. As Trump often does, this is just another ‘act now, ignore the consequences’ move to further enrich corporations and the wealthy.”      

The comments submitted by SPLC to HUD reads in part as follows:

“While engaging in social justice work in various states throughout the South, we witness firsthand the devastating effects that housing discrimination has on our society’s most vulnerable members. We believe in eliminating discriminatory policies and practices, whether they be intentional or facially neutral. The disparate impact tool that is currently in place helps to ensure fair housing practices for those who suffer discrimination at disproportionally high rates, especially people of color and people with disabilities. If HUD’s proposal is passed it will leave far too many families susceptible to housing discrimination, while creating loopholes that would shield banks and landlords from liability. …

The SPLC believes that the proposed rule will destroy disparate impact liability. We believe that HUD should focus on ensuring that actors in the housing market comply with the Fair Housing Act and meet the standards that have been set by the disparate impact rule. The current rule strengthens our communities by allowing victims of systemic discrimination to seek recourse and challenge policies that limit their access to housing and related services. HUD should not change the current disparate impact rule.”

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, there were nearly 29,000 complaints of housing discrimination reported in 2017, most for disability (57%) and racial (19%) bias. 

As part of SPLC’s efforts, the organization hosted a comment writing party at the Civil Rights Memorial Center last week. A copy of SPLC’s comments are available here.