Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a final rule to standardize implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects standard (HUD Press Release).
Included in this rule is a confirmation that the Fair Housing Act may be violated by a housing practice that has a discriminatory effect even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent. This is often referred to as the disparate impact principle, which has been enforced as such for 40 years.
Q: What is disparate impact?
A: Disparate impact is the idea that some housing practices have the unintended effect of excluding people based on race, family status, or other aspects of who we are. When a policy has a discriminatory effect and it is unjustified or unnecessary, the disparate impact approach says it must be set aside in favor of a policy that is both fair and effective. But if the policy has a solid reason behind it, and no other policy could achieve the same goal with a less discriminatory effect, then the challenged policy stands.
- A city decides to prohibit all housing that would be affordable to working-class people, and that has the effect of excluding most or all people of color in that region. If the city cannot not show an important reason for its policy, or if a more fair and effective alternative is available, then the policy would have to be set aside under the disparate impact approach.
- A mobile home park charges rent by the head, making it more expensive for families with children to rent. The landlord could instead charge by the unit.
- An apartment complex only allows people with full-time jobs. This bars disabled veterans and other people with disabilities who may not be able to work full-time, even though they can afford the apartment. The complex could instead consider all income to assess someone’s ability to afford rent.
View the final rule here.
We at the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan (FHC) applaud HUD for formalizing its long-held recognition of discriminatory effects liability under the Fair Housing Act. This new final rule is an important step forward in our nation’s pursuit of equal opportunity for all.
For more information on fair housing law and policies, or to file a fair housing complaint, please call the FHC toll-free at 1-877-979-FAIR or fill out our online contact form.