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U.S. Co-Op Housing Issues Law Blog

Ben Carson subject of national lawsuit

Michigan residents may have heard about a lawsuit against Ben Carson and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. The suit was filed because HUD had announced that it would delay implementation of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. It was designed to prevent segregation when looking for housing. New York state recently announced that it was going to take part in the national suit filed by fair housing advocates.

Ben Carson wrote in 2015 that the rule was nothing more than "failed socialism." Combined with other statements that he has made, there is a belief that he intends to undermine the rule by delaying its implementation. New York City has already announced that it will create its own fair housing rules to ensure that as many people as possible find suitable spaces to rent or buy.

HUD only processes fraction of discrimination complaints

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, or NFHA, there were 1,311 housing discrimination complaints processed in 2017. That was about 5 percent of the 28,843 complaints received that year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. State and local agencies that were funded by HUD processed another 6,896 during that same year.

During that time period, 71 percent of complaints made were processed by private or non-profit groups. The NFHA report points out that the number of complaints processed went down despite the number of complaints increasing between 2016 and 2017. The most common types of complaints included those related to race and disability. The CEO of the NFHA said that the Fair Housing Act has not yet been fully enforced and that allowing racism and discrimination to thrive is holding society back.

Facebook under investigation by HUD

Michigan residents may have heard that Facebook is being investigated for possibly violating fair housing laws. An investigation began after a ProPublica report issued in 2016 claimed that the company's advertising system allowed advertisers to target certain groups at the exclusion of others. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 forbids housing discrimination based on race or other protected attributes.

In November 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dropped its investigation into the matter. However, HUD Secretary Ben Carson has decided to reopen the case, and he says that it was always the plan to continue looking into the matter. Time constraints were cited as the reason why the investigation originally ended. A statement from Facebook claimed that its ad policies didn't allow discrimination to take place. The statement also said that discrimination went against the company's values.

Why housing discrimination is stilll a problem

The Fair Housing Rights Act of 1968 made it easier for people of color to gain access to available homes and apartments. However, Michigan residents of color may find that they still struggle to be treated equally when it comes to finding housing. It is a remnant of ideas that began after slavery ended and the country came back together as one.

In the 1930s and 1940s, neighborhoods where African-Americans lived would be shaded as red to signify that they were hazardous to be in. These are areas where banks would refuse to lend or would leave entirely, and insurance companies and other businesses are also non-existent in areas that were once labeled as a hazard to occupy. One way to put a stop to discriminatory housing practices is to report them. Of an estimated 4 million violations that occur in America each year, only 29,000 are reported.

Suit claims Facebook allows discrimination

Facebook users in Michigan and throughout the country are supposed to have equal access to see housing ads on the site. However, a lawsuit claims that it is still possible to exclude individuals based on gender or if they have kids. It also claims that it is possible for ads to not be shown to individuals based on their national origin or because they are disabled.

An October 2016 report from ProPublica highlighted the ability to only show ads to white people, which would be against the law. Facebook responded by saying that it would change its policies regarding ads related to housing, employment and credit. However, ProPublica said that such changes had not been made as it could exclude people based on their skin color or religion. The lawsuit was filed in a federal court in New York City, and one of the plaintiffs is the Fair Housing Justice Center, which is based in New York City.

African American home ownership rates hint at persistent racism

When the Fair Housing Act of 1968 became law, its purpose was to correct racial discrimination that affected people's ability to acquire housing in Michigan and nationwide. Despite good intentions, the law has had small effect on home ownership rates for African Americans. Currently, they have a homeownership rate of 42.3 percent compared to 41.6 percent in 1970.

During the boom in homeownership before the housing bubble and financial collapse, African Americans made gains that have since been lost. About 50 percent of this demographic bought homes in the early 2000s, but subprime mortgages that involved higher interest rates enabled much of this buying. According to research by a sociology professor, African Americans and Latinos took out subprime mortgages 2.4 times more often than white borrowers. The research revealed cases of African American families that had higher earnings than white buyers but were denied access to mortgages with lower interest rates.

Housing discrimination prohibited by federal civil rights law

Redlining can be a serious concern for people looking for housing in Michigan and across the United States. Part of a racialized system of discrimination and housing segregation, the term is used to refer to the denial of financial services or mortgages to people in designated neighborhoods. Through the 1970s, redlining was a major factor in housing discrimination throughout the United States, and many argue that forms of redlining continue to persist to the present day in more subtle forms. Redlining has affected people's ability to get a mortgage, a loan or insurance, and it overwhelmingly impacts poor neighborhoods and those that are primarily composed of people of color.

In the classic version of redlining, banks would draw literal red lines on maps, designating neighborhoods where they would not function. This meant that white communities had access to resources and funds while people in redlined neighborhoods were denied the ability to get mortgages and small business loans, regardless of their own financial fitness.

Appeals court hears fair housing case

The Fair Housing Act provides many protections to Michigan residents. However, the act may not necessarily provide certain protections for members of the LGBT community. On Feb. 6, the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals listened to arguments in a case involving a 70-year-old woman who alleges that she was harassed due to her sexual orientation. The woman claims that Niles' Glen Saint Andrew Living Community in Illinois did nothing to protect her.

In addition to physical harassment, she alleges that she was the target of slurs and was spit on. The case was originally dismissed at a lower court level and 7th Circuit justices were divided as to whether the law required administrators to police tenant behavior. While one judge was skeptical that the law could be stretched that far, another believed that it could.

The Fair Housing Act turns 50

The Fair Housing Act was signed into law in 1968 by Lyndon Johnson. It is formally known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and it was signed roughly a week after Martin Luther King had been assassinated. At that time, many neighborhoods in Michigan and throughout the nation were in many cases segregated. Black Americans were largely restricted as to where they could live by covenants and discriminatory banking rules.

On Jan. 25, a ceremony was held to mark its 50th anniversary at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Speakers and others at the event called to expand the law as well as for efforts to make sure that it remains in place. Such calls are in response to an announcement from the Housing and Urban Development secretary that efforts to protect fair housing would be rolled back.

Disabled tenants and housing rights

Individuals with disabilities in Michigan and the rest of the nation have a federally protected right to apply for and reside in a rental no matter what type of impairment they may have. Property owners that deny disabled tenants housing by using a discriminatory housing practice are in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act.

These two federal laws prohibit the discrimination against tenants or prospective tenants based on a disability they may have or on the disability an individual associated with them may have. The laws include protections for individuals with a physical or mental disability that significantly affect how well they are able to conduct major life activities and individuals that have a record of a disability. The laws also protect individuals who may be thought of by others as being disabled.

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