Fair Housing Month reminds us to reflect on steps taken to eliminate housing discrimination, and to continue the fight for equal housing rights and eligibilities for all.
Observed each year to commemorate 1968 Fair Housing Act, April is nationally recognized as Fair Housing Month. This time is one that especially reminds us that the principle of fair housing is not only state and national law, but a fundamental human concept that all individuals are entitled to equal housing rights regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, familial structure, and/or gender.
It is important to remember that fair housing is not an option – it’s the law. The Fair Housing Act protects everyone’s right to rent an apartment or house , buy a home, or purchase homeowner’s insurance without encountering discrimination based on any of the principles mentioned above. It also ensures that everyone is entitled to equal terms and conditions, equal housing location options, preference-free advertising, and amenities such as reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. And while there’s still more work to be done, new affirmative steps have recently been taken to further close the gap of housing discrimination.
In September and October 2020, two new rules issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development went into effect to replace policies that had been adopted during the Obama administration. Even since the start of the new year, steps have been made to ensure fair housing to all based on sexual identity and orientation.
The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule
HUD’s new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule decreases the fair housing obligations of governments that receive HUD funding by eliminating a previous obligation to take an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) to examine racial and other disparities in their communities and then take “meaningful actions” to address at least some of these disparities.
Under the new rule, instead of completing a designated assessment, local and state governments must show in their own way how they continually are taking “some active step(s) to promote fair housing” and eliminate discrimination within their designated communities.
The Disparate Impact Rule
On October 26, 2020, HUD’s new Disparate Impact rule took effect to “better reflect the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.” and to add context around laws surrounding insurance.
Under a disparate impact theory, housing providers might be held liable if they’re found responsible for some type of practice that includes an unjustified discriminatory effect, whether or not they were motivated by a discriminatory intent. For example, housing providers that deny housing to or evict female survivors of domestic violence from their living spaces because of the domestic violence perpetrated against them might have a claim filed against them for unlawful sex discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act, even if the provider did not have a discriminatory intent to discriminate against women.
The Disparate Impact rule revises the burden test that’s used to determine whether a given situation (such as the denying of housing or eviction mentioned above) constitutes an unjustified discriminatory effect found in HUD’s Fair Housing Act regulations. It also establishes a new standard for determining when a housing policy or practice with a discriminatory effect violates the Fair Housing Act.
LGBTQ Equality in Fair Housing
As of February 2021, HUD also officially announced that the Fair Housing Act now covers people who experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD is the first federal agency to act on an executive order that President Joe Biden signed on his first day in office saying that all laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex should also be interpreted as prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Some states already prohibited housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but 21 states still didn’t have any particular legislation in place. Now anyone who believes they have been discriminated against because of their gender identity or sexual orientation can now file a complaint with HUD.
More than five decades after the Fair Housing Act was first passed, there’s no denying the fact that fair housing issues still arise from time to time and that no community or geography is completely void from the possibility of experiencing housing discrimination. That’s why it’s so important that we all remain in constant pursuit of strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and equal opportunity for all.
It’s also important to reinforce the evidence of progress that has been made over time. Renewed efforts at local, state, and federal levels take a more proactive approach to promoting fair housing choice with the ultimate goal of reducing economic inequality by ensuring equal opportunity.
The Central Alabama Fair Housing Center (CAFHC) encourages everyone to come together – not only in April, but year-round – to pay mind to steps being made to ensure equal housing opportunity for all people living in central Alabama regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, family status, and/or disability. We at CAFHC remain dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination, enforcing fair housing laws, and educating individuals regarding fair housing laws. Visit our website to get more information and to learn more about how you can honor Fair Housing Month this April.