Letter to the editor: Support key rule to curb housing discrimination

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To the editor:

Over the past five years, the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana has documented 947 allegations of housing discrimination and filed several enforcement actions to stop uncovered violations of housing discrimination. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is seeking changes that would undermine the federal Fair Housing Act and threaten the ability to fight unfair industry practices in our community, putting thousands of people in central Indiana at risk of the harmful ramifications of housing discrimination.

One of our strongest tools to hold bad actors accountable in the central Indiana housing market has been the disparate impact rule. A bedrock legal principle under the Fair Housing Act, disparate impact has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as a legitimate means to target discrimination that often flies under the radar because it doesn’t involve outright, bald-faced animosity. However, the recent proposed rule issued by this administration, if enacted, would establish an onerous five-step process that would clearly preclude most from bringing future legal challenges that contain disparate impact claims.

Most allegations of discrimination we receive are from Hoosiers standing up to the discrimination they’ve suffered by saying, “I’m not going to let this happen to another person.” When they tell us their story and move forward with enforcement action, they’re involving themselves and their families in a lengthy, emotionally draining enforcement process that can most often take years — but they take this step to make our community and region a more equitable place for themselves and their families.

Although the federal Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, housing discrimination enforcement remains woefully incomplete. Nationally, an estimated 4 million incidents of housing discrimination occur each year. Until the FHCCI opened in 2012, there was no group on the ground in Indiana solely dedicated to fair housing actions. There’s still a long way to go in educating tenants and homebuyers of their rights and holding landlords and lenders in central Indiana’s housing market accountable for discriminatory practices. But without disparate impact, the ability to challenge these harmful practices becomes much harder. The good work of our colleagues in community groups and state agencies here in Indianapolis and around the state becomes all the more challenging by the additional burdens outlined in this rule.

Housing discrimination most often happens in private, at a very personal level. It can mean a woman getting evicted for contacting the police too much due to an ex violating a no-contact order. It can be a person with disabilities getting denied an apartment because they are unable to hold a full-time job despite having other means of paying their rent. Or it may be a bank charging excessive fees or rates in certain areas or to certain groups who seek home mortgages, forcing people of color to take on risky, high-cost loans.

It is already hard enough to prove this type of covert discrimination. To now add additional and cumbersome barriers for individuals and organizations fighting discrimination is counterintuitive and counterproductive. This administration needs to leave disparate impact alone.

Housing discrimination hasn’t gone away since the Fair Housing Act was enacted more than 50 years ago. The process of standing up for your housing rights is a daunting and often terrifying one. A lot of housing discrimination faced by Hoosiers is difficult to detect and harder to prove. Equal access to housing and the accompanying opportunities in education and employment are worth fighting for.

Comments on the proposed rule are due to HUD by Oct.18. Show your support of fair housing and disparate impact today. Join us to stop this administration from undoing one of our strongest legal tools to fight housing discrimination. Learn more at defendcivilrights.org.•

— Amy Nelson, executive director

Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana Indianapolis

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