Rep. Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, opposes the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed changes to the disparate impact standard of the Fair Housing Act.
Waters said in a letter to HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson that the proposal would make it harder for victims of housing discrimination to get justice. The disparate impact standard holds people accountable for discriminatory impacts of their actions, regardless of whether the discrimination was intentional.
“Without the disparate impact standard, a plaintiff would essentially have to prove malicious intent as plain as a ‘No Blacks Allowed’ sign in order to get relief,” Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to HUD. “Once a plaintiff proves that a challenged practice or policy has a discriminatory effect, the current standard allows defendants to respond to such a suit by providing legitimate business justifications for their policies and practices.”
Waters wrote in her letter that although 31,202 people reported Fair Housing violations in 2018, many more go unreported. The National Fair Housing Alliance estimates that 4 million acts of housing discrimination occur each year.
A 2008 survey of 10,000 adults in the nation’s 20 largest cities found that 1 in 4 people, or 68 million, believe they have been treated differently during their home search, Waters added.
The Chairwoman said HUD’s proposed rule would weaken the standard by raising the burden of proof on plaintiffs and victims of housing discrimination, while making it easier for defendants to deflect allegations, disincentivizing the collection of demographic data that help have proactive strategies around fair housing, and creating safe harbors that make challenging algorthmic bias difficult.
“We remind you that HUD’s mission includes building ‘inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination,’” the lawmakers wrote. “HUD’s ability to carry out this mission will be seriously compromised if it moves forward with this proposed rule, and this is no time to weaken our enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.”
The Committee said the in 2018 the African-American homeownership rate was the lowest it had been since before the Fair Housing Act was passed. A 2019 study also found that African-American and Latin borrowers are paying $765 million more in annual interest compared to other borrowers.