THE BLOG

Your Housing Rights Are on the Line

06/10/2015 05:51 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016

By Nancy Wilberg Ricks, Senior Policy Strategist, NCLR

This year all eyes are on anti-discrimination laws that impact your housing rights, as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) intends to release a much-needed and improved Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. Congress has already tried to stymie that rule, while the Supreme Court will scrutinize a legal theory called "disparate impact" that has long helped families battle housing discrimination.

This alphabet soup of players and policies could have a big impact on where you live, how much you pay for housing, and whether or not you are denied a chance to move into a neighborhood that's good for your kids.

Legislative Obstacles

HUD's release of a new AFFH rule has been a point of debate for more than 40 years. Now that HUD aims to finalize the rule, Congress is working hard to ensure that it is impossible to enforce. This rule would help in multiple ways:

  • It ensures that all people--regardless of race, ethnicity, family status, or disability--have a range of choices on where to live.
  • It gives jurisdictions the tools to identify barriers to fair housing and devise their own solutions to the unique problems they face.
  • It will advance opportunity in America by shaping investments in housing, transportation, environment, health, education, infrastructure, and economic development--all essential pathways to prosperity.

Some members of Congress are doing their best to undo years of progress made in rooting out housing discrimination. In the House last week, Representative Garrett (R-N.J.) offered an amendment to an appropriations bill that would stop the Department of Justice from enforcing the disparate impact rule, Representative Gosar (R-Ariz.) created an amendment that would stop HUD from finalizing the rule altogether, and Representative Stivers (R-Ohio) deliberately offered an amendment after midnight--when few members were present to speak against it--to prohibit the use of funds for fair housing programs. These are egregious and unfounded interventions taken by Congress to impede consumer protections.

Rumblings in the Courts

Adding fuel to the fire, the Supreme Court will decide this month whether the legal theory of "disparate impact" should be modified. Under disparate impact, a housing or lending policy or practice can be ruled discriminatory if it has a disproportionate, adverse effect on a given racial or ethnic group, even if it is unintentional. Disparate impact has laid effective precedent for decades to battle redlining, exclusionary zoning, and racial steering.

Decision-makers must maintain the strength of disparate impact's parameters. While blatant housing discrimination is rare, studies indicate that prejudice endures. Minority home-seekers are still shown fewer available housing units, raising the costs of search and constraining their choices. With a ruling later this month, the Supreme Court threatens to dilute its strength, which could compromise years of consumer wins.

Segregation endures. It is no coincidence that the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, led to the creation of the Fair Housing Act, on which decades of legal precedent now hang. Today's political climate compromises these advances and has made leaders blind to the impact of housing injustice. Invalidating fair housing rights amounts to much bigger problems for communities and society as a whole. In the wake of racial and economic unrest, now is not the time to roll back civil rights.

This was first posted to the NCLR Blog.