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U.S. Co-Op Housing Issues Law Blog

Bank accused of racial discrimination in mortgage lending

Many people throughout Michigan and across the country still face unlawful discrimination in housing and lending. According to a new lawsuit, Liberty Bank discriminated against mortgage borrowers in African American and Latino neighborhoods in two Connecticut cities. The lawsuit was filed by the National Consumer Law Center and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. They accused the bank of "redlining," denying home loans or avoiding giving credit to buyers because of the racial or ethnic identifications of their neighborhoods.

Redlining is a prohibited practice under the federal Fair Housing Act. According to an attorney filing the lawsuit, the case came after a two-year investigation that involved examining the bank's lending data. The suit alleges that from 2010 to 2016, the bank originated 1,197 home loans each year, but only 40 of those annually were to African American or Latino home buyers. This was 3.34 percent of all completed loans. The complainants said that the bank made more loans than expected in white areas and fewer in those identified as African American or Latino.

Undocumented immigrants may sue under FHA

A federal appeals court has ruled that undocumented immigrants may not necessarily be excluded from bringing housing discrimination claims. Michigan residents might be interested to learn how the court came to that ruling and what impact it might have. The judge who wrote the opinion said that the plaintiffs in the case had presented evidence sufficient to suggest that a requirement that applicants have proof of legal status could be harmful to Latinos as a class. Latinos are a protected class under the Fair Housing Act.

The ruling comes after a district court had dismissed the claims of four families against a mobile home park. The families appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit decided the lower court had made a mistake. The case was sent back down for a determination of whether the policy requiring proof of legal status disproportionately impacts Latinos.

Disability discrimination complaints on the rise

In Michigan and across the country, there is a growing concern about disability discrimination in the housing market. Co-op boards may be particularly concerned about how to develop best practices that welcome people with disabilities and provide protection for the cooperative. There are a number of ways that people with disabilities can face housing discrimination, and not all of them may be immediately obvious. In one case, a woman received complaints from a property management company saying that her wheelchair scratched walls and tracked snow in the lobby, even though people with shoes also track snow into the lobby in the winter.

In that case, the woman put a kickplate on her door and received a financial settlement after the property's management received training on the Fair Housing Act and disability discrimination. In some cities, such as Chicago, complaints about housing discrimination on the basis of disability now outweigh complaints about race discrimination, previously the leading issue of concern. The Fair Housing Act bans discrimination in the housing market, including co-ops, and addresses discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, family status and disability.

Lawsuit accuses Facebook of enabling housing discrimination

Facebook allows advertisers to target or exclude certain demographic groups within Michigan and nationwide. When applied to housing ads, this practice can amount to discrimination according to a lawsuit against the social media company from the National Fair Housing Alliance and three other advocacy groups. The secretary of the Housing and Urban Development has also expressed concern about the apparently discriminatory practices enabled by Facebook that prevent people from viewing ads for available housing.

The complaint from HUD detailed how landlords or home sellers can use the Facebook advertising system to filter out users by race, religion, disability, sex and other characteristics like zip code. The extensive personal information collected about Facebook users gives advertisers the ability to block ads from people interested in things like mobility scooters or deaf culture, which could translate into housing discrimination on the basis of disability. Property advertisers planning to avoid family tenants could withhold ads from people who had interests about child care of parenting.

HUD seeks change in fair housing rules for localities

Many people in Michigan and across the country are watching with interest ongoing developments in fair housing law. In August, the Department of Housing and Urban Development began to make changes to the rules that guide local jurisdiction in compliance with and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. Earlier in the year, the Trump administration had suspended a rule drafted by the Obama administration that was intended to assist local areas in meeting their obligations under the FHA to avoid housing discrimination and provide options for affordable housing.

HUD said that its changes to the rules were meant to reduce the burden of regulations on local jurisdiction as well as providing stronger support for local control. Advocates for the changes argued that they would increase the supply of available housing. The department argued that the earlier rule was overly prescriptive and discouraged localities from creating affordable places to live. The department also withdrew a tool used to assess and file plans for affordable housing in their areas under the earlier rule.

Couple files lawsuit after being barred by senior community

Michigan residents may be aware that the Fair Housing Act protects individuals against discrimination based on gender and other attributes. However, a Missouri retirement community called Friendship Village recently rejected a lesbian married couple citing the fact that they were married. This was after they toured the facilities and made a $2,000 deposit. Friendship Village reportedly believes that marriage is between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible.

In a lawsuit, the couple claims that this violates the Fair Housing Act. One of the women says that she didn't check to see if the couple's lifestyle would be an issue because other facilities had said it would not be. They chose Friendship Village over the other options because of cost and the care that was made available to them. Legal professionals have mixed opinions as to how the case will be decided. One said that the law will probably side with the retirement community as it is a private organization.

Minorities more likely to live in dangerous conditions

People of color in Michigan and throughout the country are often shown homes in areas with poor environmental quality compared to white people. This is the finding of a study prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Its results show that people of color are often steered into neighborhoods that are close to toxic sites or that have high levels of air pollution.

The research was based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during its own housing discrimination study. That study looked at neighborhoods in 28 American cities and found that certain characteristics determined where individuals were most likely to live. The HUD study used both white and minority actors who presented themselves as similarly qualified to buy a home. Information about the homes suggested to them was then compared with Environmental Protection Agency data.

Michigan housing community under investigation for discrimination

Bay View Association in Petoskey is under investigation for allegedly requiring homeowners to have Christian beliefs as a condition of residency. In addition, homeowners there have claimed that they aren't allowed to transfer their property to family members who aren't Christian. This is despite the fact that the community was told by the U.S. Department of Federal Housing that it isn't exempt from an anti-discrimination law.

In 2016, there were 18 complaints filed against Bay View claiming that the rule violated the Federal Fair Housing Act. A court hearing has been scheduled for July 30. Those who are in favor of the rule believe that it leads to more financial assistance as well as support from volunteers. They say that this is because the residents are fully invested in the Christian lifestyle that the community promotes. The association requires that a church leader confirm that cottage owners are members of the church or attend services.

Sexual harassment victims have rights

Those who are seeking housing in Michigan may find that they are the victims of sexual harassment. While victims can be of either gender, they are often single women with children or those who have limited housing options because of their income. Regardless of whether harassment is physical or verbal, it is illegal under the Fair Housing Act. Despite this, victims often choose not to report what has happened to them.

Typically, those who experience sexual harassment fear that they won't be able to stay where they are if they do speak up. However, those who do talk about their experiences could be entitled to compensation or other legal relief. In a case involving a Detroit property manager, a jury found that the manager and a landlord were liable for sexually harassing six tenants. They were ordered to pay $115,000 to the tenants.

HUD dumps housing segregation rule

Michigan readers may be concerned to learn that the Trump administration is eliminating a rule that helps communities enforce the Fair Housing Act of 1968, or FHA. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published the decision in the federal register on May 23. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, or AFFH, rule required cities and towns to prove they had plans to reduce segregation before they could receive federal funds. Created by the Obama administration, the rule was intended to provide cities with a comprehensive tool to measure their compliance with the FHA, which has been poorly enforced since its passage. However, before scrapping it, HUD had already taken steps to delay the rule's implementation for several years, which prompted the State of New York and a group of housing activists to sue the administration.

According to one of the lawyers involved in the lawsuit, AFFH has had a "transformative" effect on communities that have used it. The lawsuit contends that HUD broke the law when it gave no notice and held no comment period prior to yanking the rule. It further contends that HUD has a legal obligation to address housing segregation problems. While HUD's decision to eliminate the rule will force the plaintiffs to amend some details in the complaint, the lawsuit will continue forward.

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