Ensuring Effective Fair Housing Enforcement Should be A Priority

Credit: NLIHC

Trump Administration’s Proposed Disparate Impact Rule Could Worsen Racial Disparity in NJ’s Homeless Population

One of the 2019 federal policy priorities that attendees at the July 24, 2019 Congressional Reception shared with their elected officials in Washington was Fair Housing. We requested that our elected officials ensure effective fair housing enforcement and provide the necessary resources to assist jurisdictions in complying with the Fair Housing Act.

The Trump Administration has endangered fair housing. Increasing funding to ensure effective fair housing enforcement is necessary to ensure that jurisdictions comply with the Fair Housing Act. Enforcement of and compliance with the Fair Housing Act includes the duty of jurisdictions to affirmatively further fair housing.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), in its most recent action to endanger fair housing, on August 19, 2019, HUD formally published in the Federal Register the proposed changes to the fair housing Disparate Impact rule. These proposed changes would make it far more difficult for people experiencing various forms of discrimination to challenge the practices of businesses, governments, and other large entities.

As proposed, the current three-part “burden shifting” standard to show disparate impact would be radically changed to a five-component set of tests. These tests place virtually all of the burden on people who are in “protected classes” as defined by the Fair Housing Act – people of color, women, immigrants, families with children, people with disabilities, LGBTQ persons, and people of faith.

While this proposed rule is being proposed by the Trump administration and not our elected officials who represent NJ in Congress, there will be the opportunity to comment to submit comments on the proposed rule.  And if you will be meeting with your elected officials while they are back in New Jersey for the congressional recess, it can’t hurt to also share your comments and concerns on the proposed rule with them, too.

What are the implications of these proposed changes to the fair housing Disparate Impact rule? One implication is that making it more difficult for people to challenge housing discrimination on the basis of race could impact the numbers around the racial disparity in NJ’s homeless population.

The 2019 Point in Time count for New Jersey found that on a single night 8,864 persons were identified as experiencing homelessness. HMIS data reveals that over the course of a year an estimated 26,000 people experience homelessness in New Jersey. Among those experiencing homelessness as identified through the PIT count, 49% identify as Black or African American. This is despite the fact that persons identifying as Black or African American make up only 24% of the population in poverty within the state and only 13% of the total state population.

Conversely, persons identifying as white make up 27% of the population identified as homeless, 33% of the population in poverty and 57% of the total state population. Any effort to end homelessness in the United States should address the issues that have resulted from racial inequity. It is critical that we work to protect the opportunity to fair, affordable, and stable housing for everyone.

The NJCounts 2019 report is intended to assist communities in understanding the characteristics and needs of those experiencing homelessness so as to improve service delivery and resource targeting to effectively end homelessness. As communities work to expand their understanding of the root causes of homelessness it is important recognize the structural forces impacting trajectories into and out of homelessness.

Disparities in who experiences homelessness highlight the impact of a pervasive structural force: Systemic Racism. Acknowledging and understanding the impact of systemic racism on those experiencing homelessness is key to developing an effective system responsive to the community and strengthened in cultural understanding and awareness. 

Given this reality, it is critical for communities that seek to address, and end homelessness also examine issues of racial inequity as they relate to causes of homelessness and access to housing and services. Solutions that seek to successfully address issues of homelessness must implemented with a racial equity lens in order for their impact to be lasting and effective. Communities in New Jersey have the opportunity to develop strategies responsive to the needs of those experiencing homelessness.

How has fair housing impacted racial disparity and contributed to racial inequality? One reason is that Black or African American families are more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty — areas that have limited economic opportunities, fewer services, and poorer educational resources. People who become homeless are likely to have lived in these neighborhoods immediately before their homelessness.

Data beyond the NJCounts 2019 report shows that African Americans often face barriers when attempting to move to more favorable neighborhoods. A 2012 U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) study, Housing Discrimination Against Racial And Ethnic Minorities, found that people of color were often shown fewer rental units, offered higher rents, and denied more leases than Whites.

Comments on the proposed fair housing Disparate Income rule are due by October 18, 2019. Monarch Housing  will share a sample comment letter that the NLIHC will offer for advocates to tailor for submitting comments.