In August, we let you know about a long-standing civil rights protection known as “Disparate Impact” that is currently under attack by the Trump Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The disparate impact theory has been used to prove housing discrimination claims since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and despite having enjoyed bi-partisan support for more than 50 years, HUD is proposing to change the rule and make it nearly impossible to challenge discriminatory practices that are not blatant or explicit.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Disparate Impact is an important tool in fighting segregation and racial isolation. However, HUD’s proposed rule would require explicit proof of discrimination (not just proof of the discriminatory effect), provide special protections for businesses that use algorithms, and seems to lay the foundation for exempting the insurance industry from disparate impact liability.
What this change would mean, is that future discriminatory laws and policies would be harder to fight. The Disparate Impact legal theory is at the heart of dozens of cases that have protected Louisiana residents. Most notable among them is GNOFHAC’s case that secured $62 million in relief for families across South Louisiana harmed by the Road Home’s discriminatory funding formula. While the policy of offering rebuilding grants based on the pre-storm value of a home, rather than the cost to rebuild, seemed neutral, it resulted in homeowners in white neighborhoods receiving higher grant awards than homeowners in predominantly African American neighborhoods. This was true even when the homes were the same size and age, and the damage was similar.
Without Disparate Impact, we also might not have been able to stop St. Bernard Parish’s 2006 “blood relative” ordinance preventing property owners from renting to anyone but blood relatives. In addition, Disparate Impact was pivotal in protecting survivors of domestic violence from eviction because of the actions of an abuser.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to tell HUD that Disparate Impact needs to stay. GNOFHAC is working with national groups to collect as many comments opposing the rule as possible before Friday, October 18th. To make a comment and make your voice heard, visit www.defendcivilrights.org/make-comment.