Trump Plan Would Weaken Disability Housing Protections, Advocates Say
A new Trump administration rule could make it harder for people with developmental disabilities and others to lodge discrimination complaints under the federal Fair Housing Act.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed rule, which is likely to face legal challenges, would replace “disparate impact” guidelines regarding housing policies that indirectly discriminate against certain groups. The new rule would raise the burden of proof for people filing discrimination complaints and give landlords more authority to use algorithms such as minimum credit scores to reject housing applicants.
“Autistic people may face barriers to challenging rules that disproportionately burden us,” said Sam Crane, legal director and director of public policy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
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For someone with autism, for example, it could be harder to successfully challenge a landlord’s requirement that housing applicants maintain full-time jobs.
Crane also pointed to a lack of protection for residents who can’t use automated phone systems to make service requests as an example of an unintended consequence of the rule.
In addition, it may become harder to challenge so-called “nuisance” laws that limit the number of emergency calls to a residence. If a neighbor calls 911 too many times under such a law for behavior they consider a disturbance, a person with autism could be evicted or lose their occupancy permit, Crane said.
“I think my greatest concern is that this rule would create additional barriers for a population that already has difficulty accessing justice,” Crane said. “We already have far more people experiencing discrimination than we have attorneys willing to take on these cases free of charge, and this rule will exacerbate that by making disparate impact discrimination claims harder and more work-intensive to pursue.”
In an August press release, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson said the changes to the Obama-era rule provide “more appropriate guidance” to businesses and governments that better align with a 2015 Supreme Court decision. The changes do not affect situations of intentional discrimination, according to the housing department.
Public comments on the revised rule closed in October, but the housing department has not released a timeline for its implementation.
There is a chronic lack of affordable and accessible housing for people with disabilities, said Molly Burgdorf, director of rights policy at The Arc.
HUD’s proposed changes could add to the housing crisis by “gutting” disparate impact as a fair housing enforcement tool, Burgdorf said.
“Disparate impact has been a way to successfully challenge barriers that seem neutral, but in practice result in discrimination,” Burgdorf said, citing rental property requirements for pay stubs as proof of income as one example. People with disabilities who rely on Social Security benefits would not qualify as renters under such a requirement, she said.
Disability discrimination claims make up the largest percentage of housing discrimination complaints to public and private fair housing enforcement groups, according to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
The change could prevent challenges to housing policies that prohibit service animals or require a full-time job for occupancy, the legal organization wrote in a letter of opposition.
The Arc and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network signed onto a separate letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities in opposition to the proposed rule change.
“We urge HUD to withdraw this proposed rule, and leave intact important, existing protections for people with disabilities and others under the Fair Housing Act,” the consortium’s letter reads.
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