The Biden Administration recently moved to reinstate two key fair housing rules that had been gutted under the former administration.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is looking to restore the disparate impact rule, a legal standard in housing cases that weigh discriminatory effects regardless of intent, and the 2015 affirmatively furthering fair housing rule (AFFH) meant to guide local jurisdictions on compliance with the Fair Housing Act.
HUD’s efforts to restore these rules are steps in the right direction if we are to advance fair housing and improve equitable housing access: If the former changes to the disparate impact rule were to remain intact, people would face much greater challenges in bringing forward discrimination complaints. And as if that wasn’t enough, the AFFH would have been entirely eliminated and replaced with weaker standards.
Why This Matters
People experiencing homelessness face a national shortage of affordable housing, with people of color and people with disabilities particularly susceptible to the housing crisis.
People experiencing homelessness also often have few financial resources and far too often encounter discrimination when seeking housing. It remains extremely important to expand opportunities for vulnerable people, and to protect the rights guaranteed under the Fair Housing Act. Now, is an even more critical time, with a health pandemic raging and increase in homelessness by seven percent in 2020 (AHAR 2020): vulnerable people need equitable access to housing.
The field now has more tools to house people experiencing homelessness through bills like the American Rescue Plan Act, which provides $5 billion in new funding in homeless assistance and supportive services, $21.5 billion in rental assistance, and $5 billion in Housing Choice Vouchers. While admirable (and desperately needed), these funding streams alone will not necessarily address issues of fair housing. Communities will need guidance to help them analyze their housing markets and systemic barriers to housing if we are to take full advantage of the current bills to improve housing opportunities for people most in need – particularly groups disproportionately impacted by homelessness and people with disabilities.
Other harmful rules to vulnerable people such as the public charge and the mixed status families rules have been either blocked or withdrawn by HUD. Strategizing how to partner with states and how to utilize the new funding to house as many people experiencing homelessness as possible is challenging enough. At least we no longer have harmful rules lingering over us, and might be getting more guidance on fair housing soon. Now is the time we can really make change and get closer to our goal of ending homelessness – we’ve got good work to do!