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In its recent ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, the Supreme Court upheld the disparate impact theory under the Fair Housing Act (FHA)—an important law passed in 1968 to increase fair housing opportunities for protected classes, decrease segregation, and eliminate discrimination in housing.
The disparate impact theory of proving discrimination is critical to advancing fair housing because there is often insufficient evidence to meet the higher burden of proving intentional discrimination. The Obama Administration has relied on the disparate impact theory to force important settlements with lending institutions accused of discriminatory practices, and to challenge local government policies that limit the housing opportunities available to racial minorities.
“The disparate impact theory is also a critical tool for responding to the spread of overly broad criminal background screening policies applied to housing applicants, and the increasing number of local governments passing crime-free and nuisance property ordinances under the guise of combating crime,” said Jenna Prochaska, a staff attorney and Harvard Fellow at the Shriver Center. “Although seemingly neutral, these ordinances have serious, harmful, and discriminatory consequences. By subjecting entire households to eviction when the police are called repeatedly to particular rental properties, these ordinances frequently punish domestic violence survivors for the acts of their abusers. They also reduce the supply of affordable rental housing and target renters, who are disproportionately racial minorities, on the basis of minor offenses.”
“This case highlights the critical role of the Fair Housing Act in the broader landscape of civil rights protections,” said Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice at the Shriver Center. “The Shriver Center has frequently used disparate impact to challenge local governments and public housing authorities whose policies and practices result in a potential loss of affordable housing and integrative opportunities for racial minorities and families with children. Armed with this decision, advocates can continue to develop this tool to combat the ongoing harmful effects of segregation and discrimination.”
The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. We specialize in practical solutions. We advocate for and serve clients directly, while also building the capacity of the nation’s legal aid providers to advance justice and opportunity for their clients. www.povertylaw.org.
The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. We specialize in practical solutions. We advocate for and serve clients directly, while also building the capacity of the nation’s legal aid providers to advance justice and opportunity for their clients. www.povertylaw.orgDownload this