Trump Administration moves forward with final rule that promotes housing discrimination amid COVID-19 pandemic

The latest move by the Trump Administration to erode federal civil rights protections has especially cruel timing in the midst of a global pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today finalized a rule that tramples upon the longstanding legal standard of disparate impact, weakens the Fair Housing Act, and makes people more vulnerable to housing discrimination. The latest move by the Trump Administration to erode federal civil rights protections has especially cruel timing in the midst of a global pandemic where a person’s ability to stay at home is a matter of public and personal health.

A robust disparate impact standard is critical to combatting systemic racism in housing. The theory allows individuals to challenge policies that seem neutral but actually cause unique harm to protected groups without justification.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at a time when, much like now, this country was confronting urgent questions about the racism woven into this nation’s fabric. In the decades since, courts have consistently agreed that the Fair Housing Act prohibits not only intentional discrimination but also policies that have a disparate impact.

“This rule disregards the plain language in the Fair Housing Act and decades of court decisions affirming the disparate impact standard,” said Audra Wilson, President and CEO of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. “Instead, it will keep intact the structural racism in housing policies that beget lasting consequences for where a person lives and cause tangible ripple effects on all aspects of a person’s life, such as access to education, jobs, and transportation.”

With a diluted disparate impact standard, Black and Latino/a/x communities, people with disabilities, women, and families with children have lost a mighty tool for fighting housing discrimination. This loss may become especially acute for people with arrest and convictions records as HUD considers using the final rule to rescind its 2016 guidance clarifying the disparate impact use of such background checks may have on communities of color.  

The Shriver Center condemns this rule and the contempt for civil rights protections that it represents. With the leadership of our new Director of Housing Justice, Eric Sirota, and in collaboration with fellow national partners and our state-level network members, the Shriver Center will fight this assault on the Fair Housing Act and advocate to restore the disparate impact standard as Congress and the federal courts intended.

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

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

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