Those working to ensure equal access to housing in Central New York say a proposed rule change by the Department of Housing and Urban Development would make it more difficult to prove housing discrimination.
The proposed re-write of a 2013 HUD rule would set a higher bar for bringing cases of unintentional discrimination, known as disparate impact. Executive Director of CNY Fair Housing Sally Santangelo says the undefined and arbitrary standard would create an extreme hurdle…
"Essentially, it would cut off cases before they even start because the standard for bringing cases is too burdensome."
Santangelo says they do see cases that fall under the disparate impact standard, mainly involving victims of domestic violence…and those who don’t have full-time employment such as seniors and those with disabilities. She says the rule change would also allow banks and insurers to essentially outsource discrimination.
"Because they can pass it off to third parties to establish the algorithms for screening tenants, for example. Banks and insurers would be able to avoid liability, so they have no incentive to make sure their pracitces aren't discriminatory."
She says if the rule change goes forward, they’ll lose an important tool to challenge discrimination.
"Disparate impact allows us to look at bigger policy issues that perpetuate segregation and lead to discriminatory practices based on race and ethnicity. That's a huge concern in Central New York, where we continue to have some of the highest rates of segregation in the country."
Santangelo says the disparate impact standard offers important protections since the intent to discriminate can’t always be proven. The US Supreme Court has agreed, and she says the standard for reviewing such cases has been consistent for more than four decades. Santangelo says most local housing providers comply with the law, but she worries any rule change could mean her organization will start to see people denied housing that otherwise wouldn’t under current law.