For more than 50 years, the Fair Housing Act has worked to eliminate barriers to housing and promote opportunity. As our nation becomes more diverse in every way, the Fair Housing Act helps to foster strong and inclusive communities, which are critical to our collective success.

The act is a testament to the importance of equity in housing and creating a stable foundation for all Americans to thrive.

This week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued a proposed rule that would severely limit the progress that was envisioned by the Fair Housing Act to root out discrimination.

At stake is a tool used to enforce the Fair Housing Act called “disparate impact.” This legal theory provides that banks, landlords and other housing providers should choose policies that avoid an unnecessary discriminatory impact. Sometimes policies that appear neutral in theory can unfairly exclude certain groups of people or segregate particular communities in practice.

Disparate impact allows us to challenge and prevent harmful, inequitable and unjustified policies, ensuring that everyone is treated fairly. It is one of the few tools we have to root out systemic racism and discrimination. This tool is important to combat modern forms of discrimination, which might not always be obvious to the people they harm.

Gutting this very important enforcement tool will have a negative impact on Virginians of all backgrounds and will damage neighborhoods and communities for years to come here in the commonwealth and across the country.

The disparate impact protection in housing has been a legal and regulatory bedrock principle for decades, and more recently was upheld by the executive and judicial branches:

  • In 2013, HUD implemented a final rule that ensured 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.
  • In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced use of disparate impact in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project. In a seminal opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ruled the Fair Housing Act has a “continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society.” The Supreme Court thereby ensured that all Americans would continue to be protected from systemic housing discrimination.

Here are just a few examples of repercussions if this protection would be eliminated:

  • A landlord could evict victims of domestic violence for calling the police more than once to seek protection from their abuser. This would place victims of domestic violence and their children at risk of homelessness and further violence.
  • A landlord could exclude applicants who don’t hold full-time jobs. This action could bar people with disabilities or seniors who might not work full-time but still can afford an apartment.
  • An apartment building could restrict occupancy to one person per bedroom. Families with children would be barred from renting or would be forced to rent more expensive multi-bedroom apartments.
  • An insurance company could refuse to insure homes under a certain dollar value. In many communities, this would exclude homes in neighborhoods of color, and would prevent homeowners in those neighborhoods from fully protecting their homes from damage due to fire, hurricanes or other disasters.

Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia has utilized the disparate impact tool to bring large-scale change in the commonwealth, and our mission to end housing discrimination would be severely limited by this attempt to roll back the protections affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015.

Everyone should have an equal opportunity to live in the home of their choice. Where we live impacts every aspect of our lives — access to good jobs, good schools, public transportation and safe streets. We must not reverse the progress we have made in fair housing nor limit the future envisioned by the Fair Housing Act.

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Heather Mullins Crislip is president and CEO of Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. Contact her at hcrislip@HOMEofVA.org.

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