AG Shapiro Opposes Efforts to Enable Cover Up of Housing Discrimination

October 18, 2019 | Topic: Consumers

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro and a coalition of 21 other Attorneys General today filed formal legal comments opposing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed changes to the Disparate Impact Rule. The current rule protects against discriminatory housing and lending practices that harm individuals based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. HUD’s proposed changes would make it more difficult to pursue cases of housing discrimination in court, thus undermining the ability of state Attorneys General to enforce fair housing laws.

“The federal government seems intent on undermining the ability of Attorneys General to protect consumers from housing discrimination on all fronts—first by limiting our access to critical data and now by making it more difficult to pursue cases in court,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “My colleague Attorneys General and I will not tolerate this. We will continue to oppose any attempts to weaken discrimination protections and will work to ensure that all Americans have access to fair housing, regardless of the color of their skin. My Office will also continue our investigation into allegations of redlining and will hold accountable any financial institution or lender that is found to be discriminating against consumers.”

Disparate impact liability is an important tool for Attorneys General to enforce fair housing laws, combat housing discrimination, and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to obtain housing. States have regularly challenged housing policies that have a discriminatory effect, including zoning ordinances, mortgage lending discrimination, and English-only policies. These policies often disproportionately hurt minority residents and vulnerable populations, such as domestic violence victims.

The coalition argues that the proposed rule changes grossly misinterpret the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and drastically exceed HUD’s authority by altering judicial procedures. The changes also provide more immunity to lending and insurance companies at the expense of consumers, making it more likely that meritorious claims will be dismissed unnecessarily. Overall, the changes would make it harder for plaintiffs to bring cases alleging housing discrimination to court and make it easier for defendants to avoid liability.

Attorney General Shapiro is currently investigating allegations of redlining based on evidence of financial institutions refusing to make mortgage loans in Philadelphia neighborhoods because of applicants’ racial or ethnic makeup, or otherwise unlawfully dissuading minorities from applying for mortgage loans. HUD’s proposed rule changes would severely hinder the ability of Attorneys General to pursue cases of redlining in court.

This is not the first time Attorneys General have taken action to prevent housing discrimination. Earlier this week, Attorney General Shapiro and 11 other Attorneys General submitted formal comments urging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) not to adopt new rules that would roll back reporting requirements that are necessary for state Attorneys General to pursue cases under FHA’s disparate impact rule. Additionally, in August 2018, AG Shapiro and 15 other Attorneys General sent a letter to HUD urging the department to keep its current Disparate Impact Rule to protect consumers.

In addition to Pennsylvania, the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington also signed onto today’s formal legal comments. A copy is available here.

Consumers who believe they have been victims of discriminatory housing practices should email or call the office’s Civil Rights section at (717) 787-0882.

# # #