Where we live matters. Where we live shapes the opportunities we have – whether we have access to reliable, affordable transportation, to good hospitals, to good schools, and to good jobs. Where we live even determines what type of air we breathe. Lastly, where we live is shaped by policy. Because of racially discriminatory housing policies and practices – past and present, explicit and implicit – communities of color, particularly Black communities, are more likely to live in neighborhoods with high poverty and low opportunity and thus, are less likely to accumulate wealth. As a nation, we absolutely must address the cumulative impact of racial housing discrimination.
This is why we should all pay attention to the case presented to the U.S. Supreme Court last week: Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project. The ruling of this case could redefine the Fair Housing Act, which would make it harder for organizers and advocates to reverse decades of racially discriminatory housing policies and practices.
A little bit of history: MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry provided a great breakdown of the origins of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. In sum, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was the final policy implemented as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. Before the Act, America suffered through years of overt housing discrimination through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which redlined neighborhoods, green lit restrictive covenants, and downgraded the credit ratings of Black and interracial neighborhoods. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 highlighted the right to fair housing but much like voting rights, was not enforced by the government. Fast forward to 1967 when the Kerner Commission identified persistent housing segregation as a cause of race riots in Detroit, Newark, and Los Angeles. As a result, the 1968 Fair Housing Act was implemented to enforce fair housing rights by prohibiting housing policies and practices that discriminate against one’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability, and to promote integration. Since its passing, the Fair Housing Act has been a major tool for community organizers and advocates to combat this type of discrimination and build opportunity for communities of color who had been historically excluded from good housing.
Now the question before the Supreme Court is whether the Fair Housing Act should be considered only for explicit housing discrimination. Currently, the Fair Housing Act is used to stop explicit housing discrimination, but it is also used for “disparate impact.” Disparate impact is claimed when a policy or practice is race-neutral or not discriminatory in its intention, but produces discriminatory outcomes on a group based on race, religion, sex, familial status and disability. Ultimately, disparate impact is used for examining the effects of a policy or practice, rather than its intent. If the court rules against using the Fair Housing Act for disparate impact policies, the consequences will be severe. Here’s why:
Despite the Fair Housing Act, housing policies and practices continue to be barriers to steady homeownership for people of color. Over the past few decades, explicit discriminatory policies in housing have all but disappeared. But, homeownership continues to be elusive for communities of color. As of 2014, 72.6% of Whites own their own homes, compared to 45.6% of Latinos and 42.9% of Blacks.
On one hand, people of color oftentimes don’t have access to credit. For instance, potential homeowners need a credit score of 580 to receive a standard loan from the FHA. If one does not meet the minimum credit score, to receive an FHA loan you must put down a larger down payment. However, people of color on average have lower credit scores than Whites. And, because credit agencies account for mortgage but not rental payments, White homeowners are automatically at an advantage for higher credit scores. Additionally, because people of color disproportionately have a lower income and net worth than their White counterparts, putting down a larger down payment is not a feasible option.
On the other hand, even for those who meet credit standards, people of color continue to be denied for loans by mortgage banks at a significantly higher rate than their White counterparts. Blacks and Latinos are denied for mortgage loans at nearly triple the rate as their White counterparts, regardless of income. Additionally, Black and Latino families making more than $200,000 dollars a year are more likely to receive a subprime loan compared to White families making less than $30,000 a year. Furthermore, studies show families of color are shown fewer houses in metropolitan areas compared to White families in neighborhoods they can afford. Mortgage banks or real estate agencies are not explicitly denying families of color the opportunity to own a home, yet these subtler forms of housing discrimination persist. Some policies or practices may be unintentional in limiting opportunity, or some may be influenced by implicit bias. Either way, disparate impact is vital in combating these forms of discriminatory outcomes.
If the Supreme Court rules that the Fair Housing Act cannot be used for disparate impact, the consequences will be dire, particularly for communities of color. It’s not solely about bigoted individuals denying people the ability to buy a home; it is about communities, particularly communities of color, having limited opportunities due to policy and practice. If our housing is segregated, our education system will continue to be segregated, and provide limited opportunities for children of color. Children of color will continue to be subjected to higher asthma rates. The outcomes of these practices in housing affect everything from good jobs to good healthcare to educational opportunity and more. This will ripple across generations.
With housing at the core of our opportunity, we cannot ignore the decision the Supreme Court will make that will impact our collective future.
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