Federal Court Halts Rule Change That Would Undermine Fair Housing

Shriver Center & Legal Impact Network members lend voices to stop this proposed rule to upend the longstanding legal standard of disparate impact.

Everyone should have a safe and affordable place to live regardless of their race, gender, or ability. This is especially essential during a pandemic. Still, many individuals are denied housing not only through intentional discrimination but also as a result of structural barriers that perpetrate segregation and disproportionately harms people more vulnerable to housing discrimination.

This week, a federal court halted implementation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s final disparate impact rule, the Trump Administration’s latest effort to erode federal civil rights protections. The new rule, set to have taken effect on October 26, 2020, would have allowed housing providers to use their own bottom line to legally justify the inequitable impacts of their policies. The court described the rule as a “significant overhaul” of HUD’s prior interpretations that “run[s] the risk of effectively neutering disparate impact liability under the Fair Housing.” 

The Fair Housing Act has long outlawed both intentional discrimination and, under the disparate impact theory, policies that seem neutral but actually cause unique harm to protected groups without justification. As recently as 2015, the Supreme Court affirmed the disparate impact standard as essential to the mission of the Fair Housing Act. With this week’s ruling, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts put a halt to HUD’s attempts to gut this essential mechanism of fair housing enforcement and civil rights protection, thus ensuring that essential disparate impact protections will continue.  

These protections are vital to ensure, for example, that individuals with criminal records are not forever barred from housing, that survivors of domestic violence do not face eviction for calling the police, that municipalities cannot unjustly deny the establishment of safe quarantine housing for individuals with disabilities or children in the foster care system, and that government emergency aid is used to help the most vulnerable.

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law, in collaboration with the National Housing Law Project, filed an amicus brief in the case opposing implementation of the disparate impact rule. Three member organizations of the Shriver Center’s Legal Impact NetworkKansas Appleseed, Nebraska Appleseed, and the Public Justice Center— also joined as friends of the court.  

Read the amicus brief here. 

More Information

Housing is fundamental to achieving economic stability, better health outcomes, and thriving families and communities.

Shelter is not only a basic human need, it is also critical to people’s ability to pursue and attain economic stability.

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