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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speaks during a Cabinet meeting with President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, June 12, 2017.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The Skanner News
Published: 26 October 2019

Housing Oregon has urged the Department of Housing and Urban Development to protect the existing rules on housing discrimination, saying that changes proposed by the federal housing agency would weaken the law on housing discrimination and make it “virtually impossible” for victims of unfair practices to get justice.

Brian Hoop, director, and Sheila Stiley, board chair, of Housing Oregon, Portland, issued a joint public comment on the Fair Housing Act's Disparate Impact Standard, which prevents landlords from discriminating against people based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, the presence of families with children, and people with disabilities.

“In its current form, the Disparate Impact Rule has proven practical and effective," the comment says.

“Disparate impact liability has provided protection for families with children who would be excluded from housing they can afford by policies allowing only one person per bedroom in a housing unit.

"It has provided protection for victims of domestic abuse who faced eviction under policies that would penalize them for the violence they experienced or seeking police aid.

"It has provided protection for home mortgage applicants when a bank charges unfair and excessive fees or rates to certain groups who seek loans, meaning people of color, women, or people with disabilities are forced to take on risky or costly loans or not have access to financing.


Proposals roll back rights

“The proposed rule includes deeply flawed changes that shift the burden of proof and inserts inordinately high barriers that would make it virtually impossible to bring the bedrock and heartland housing discrimination cases that Justice Kennedy expressly stated should be brought using disparate impact.

“Victims of discrimination will face a drastically higher burden to prove a disparate impact claim under the Fair Housing Act, making it virtually impossible to succeed. Victims are asked to play a rigged game of whack-a-mole, trying to guess what justifications a defendant might invoke and preemptively debunk them.  

“Language in the proposed rule suggests that a practice or policy that is profitable could be immune from challenge for its discriminatory impact -- with the burden on discrimination victims to show that a company can make at least as much money without discriminating."

'Starkly discriminatory effects'

“The proposed rule would provide special defenses for business practices that rely on statistics or algorithms.

"Disparate impact is a critical tool to rein in discrimination in the use of algorithmic models -- such as credit scoring, pricing, marketing, and automated underwriting systems.

"These can have starkly discriminatory effects but can operate as a hidden box, making those discriminatory effects difficult to attribute to any person's intentional discrimination. HUD's proposed rule could effectively immunize such covert discrimination by algorithm.

“Businesses are disincentivized to collect important data that can reveal discrimination. This means that victims of discrimination will be unable to identify whether discrimination is happening and lack the ability to challenge it if they do detect discrimination."

Fairness for everyone 

“As a nation, we have a shared interest in ensuring that housing opportunities are available to every individual, regardless of their personal characteristics.

"The Fair Housing Act prohibits intentional discriminatory acts and facially "neutral" policies that limit housing opportunities based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, the presence of families with children, and people with disabilities. 

“Fully realizing the promises of the Fair Housing Act for every person in the United States is central to HUD's mission.

Housing Oregon shares this central mission and we write to urge you not to revise HUD's existing Disparate Impact Rule.”

Housing Oregon is a membership-based statewide association of affordable housing community development corporations committed to serving and supporting low-income Oregonians across the housing needs spectrum -- from homeless to homeowner.

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