Housing discrimination, hate crimes on the rise in U.S., says report

A block of brick-faced apartment buildings in New York City.A
new report by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) found that
in 2018, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Fair Housing Act, the
nation is moving backwards, not forwards, in the fight to guarantee
equal access.  | Shutterstock

Nation faces “unprecedented attack” on fair housing,
according to National Fair Housing Alliance

In 2018,
Marsha Wetzel
filed a report alleging she was subjected to
physical abuse, slurs, and verbal threats from fellow tenants of
her senior living community because she was gay. The staff at the
Glen Saint Andrew Living Community in Niles, Illinois, Wetzel says,
was “apathetic to her claims,” ignoring the 70-year-old’s
complaints.

Stories like Wetzel’s are becoming more widespread, according
to a new report by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA). In
the same year, Latino residents of the
Waples Mobile Home Park
in Fairfax, Virginia, were required by
management to pay a $100 surcharge every month if they couldn’t
prove U.S. residency. In Connecticut, potential homeowners in
certain black- or Latino-majority neighborhoods had problems
getting mortgages approved through local lender
Liberty Bank
.

Over 30,000 legal cases reviewed in the “Defending
Against Unprecedented Attacks on Fair Housing
” show the
different forms of harassment, hate crimes, and housing
discrimination—illegally restricting access to housing due to
membership in a protected legal class, such a being a person of
color or having a disability—currently taking place in the
U.S.

Published on the 50th anniversary of the landmark
Fair Housing Act
, the report shows the the nation is moving
backwards, not forwards, in the fight to guarantee equal access. In
2018, the nation saw an 8 percent year-to-year increase in fair
housing cases, the largest since the group began keeping records in
1995, as well as a 14.7 percent increase in hate crime offenses
linked to housing.

In a dramatic summation, the NFHA said renters faced “a
resurgence of horrific hate activity,” and that “it can
sometimes seem like we are living in a nightmare.”

“It is clear that some want to maintain this country’s
segregated communities—the result of both government and private
market historical and current policies—which set up the perfect
scenario for perpetuating the inequality many of us are
battling,” the report noted.

“It is clear that some want to maintain this country’s
segregated communities—the result of both government and private
market historical and current policies—which set up the perfect
scenario for perpetuating the inequality many of us are
battling.”

In addition to the ongoing challenges of reporting and
investigating such claims, the policies of the current
administration are also to blame due to changes to existing rules
and
a rollback of enforcement
, the report notes. “The Trump
administration has launched unprecedented attacks on fair housing
in an effort to chill civil rights enforcement.”

What housing discrimination looks like
today

The rise in housing discrimination offenses is a recent
phenomenon. After steady declines in reported offenses since the
early 2000s, there’s been an upswing in recent years. In addition
to last year’s increase, there was also a 14.7 percent jump
between 2016 and 2017.

Of the 31,202 total complaints filed last year, most of which
impacted renters, 51 percent were due to discrimination based on
disability, roughly 17 percent were based on race, 8 percent around
familial status, and 7 percent on national origin. Americans with
disabilities have long faced housing issues, especially when it
comes to
requesting accommodations for housing
, including allowing
service animals, or getting ramps installed for those using
wheelchairs.

Additional evidence confirms that housing discrimination is
getting worse. Zillow’s annual
Housing Aspirations Report,
an annual survey of 10,000 adults
in the 20 largest U.S. metro areas, added fair housing questions in
last year’s survey. Roughly 27 percent of adults believe they
have been treated differently because of their status in a
protected group.

Changing federal housing policy

Over the last three years, two major federal policy shifts have
exacerbated discrimination, according to the NFHA’s report, which
specifically calls out housing policy under the Trump
administration’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary,
Dr. Ben Carson.

In January 2019, Carson repealed the
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
(AFFH) Rule.
As Curbed’s Jeff Andrews explained,
the AFFH “sought to
provide municipalities with tools to identify and alleviate
segregation,” saying in short that anybody using federal funds
must use them in a way that deconstructs residential segregation.
Although the rule hadn’t been enforced before the Obama
administration made an effort in 2015, the Trump administration
quickly ceased all enforcement.

“For the entire history of the United States, our housing
policies were racialized,” Lisa Rice, President and CEO of NFHA,
told Curbed. “We had this system and mechanism for meting out who
had access to housing and loans, and institutionalized redlining.
When we passed the Fair Housing Act, we said you couldn’t use
race as a factor to get a loan or live in a specific neighborhood.
But we left in place the structural systems, such as the dual
credit market and residential segregation, the pillars and
apparatus of segregation, in place. The only mechanism we designed
to get rid of structural segregation is AFFH.”

“When we passed the Fair Housing Act, we said you couldn’t
use race as a factor to get a loan or live in a specific
neighborhood. But we left in place the structural systems, such as
the dual credit market and residential segregation, the pillars and
apparatus of segregation, in place.”

Secondly, HUD sought to roll back disparate impact regulations,
a legal doctrine that states that discrimination can occur even if
it wasn’t explicitly intended. As
Andrews explains
, if an insurance company decides it won’t
insure houses built before 1950 in a certain city, and it’s found
that people of color in the city predominantly live in
neighborhoods where houses were built before 1950, the insurance
company has implemented a policy where the net effect is
discriminatory.

Disparate impact has been enforced since 1971, but according to
Rice and the report, the Trump administration is trying to roll
back the jurisprudence around this law, effectively making it
“nearly impossible” to bring these cases to court.

Carson has previously said these types of programs amount to
social
engineering
,” and that zoning changes, specifically
getting rid of exclusionary zoning laws
, can help accomplish
the same goals as the AFFH rule.

The NFHA report disagrees. Zoning is a “very blunt
instrument,” for accomplishing such a goal, the report states,
and while changing what’s allowed to be built may certainly lead
to more supply, it won’t necessarily guarantee that housing is
affordable and available to all.

In addition, zoning changes don’t address the pressing need
for more affordable housing support. The Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities reports that
funding for public housing repairs fell 35 percent between 2000 and
2018
, and that due to budget limitations, just one in four
households eligible for housing assistance receives such
assistance.

How to combat discrimination

Tougher enforcement from the federal government, including
enforcing Obama-era AFFH and disparate impact regulations, will be
needed to reverse the trend, the NFHA says. In addition, more local
governments should focus on passing income protections and
inclusionary zoning policies, to ensure that new development adds
more affordable options. Other recommendations include getting rid
of state laws that preempt housing protections, passing the

Equality Act and Fair Housing Improvement Act of 2019
to add
more protected classes (such as source of income and veteran
status), and more aggressively tackling hate crimes.

In addition, new technologies can fall prey to old biases, and
effectively automate discrimination, like AI-assisted loan
assistance algorithms or social media advertising for housing.
Significant legal action against Facebook, for instance, which was

cited repeatedly
for allowing landlords to use the site’s
micro-targeting features to keep housing advertisements from being
seen by certain groups of people, has led to the site to
change its policies around housing advertisements
.

“It’s not going to be one change that gets us out of the
conundrum we’re in, it’s going to take a multifaceted
approach,” says Rice. “We lulled ourself into a belief that we
were a more fair society, but at least there is more awareness
today that there’s more work to do. We haven’t arrived yet.
We’re not at that kumbaya moment.”

Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
Housing discrimination, hate crimes on the rise in U.S., says report