Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Familial Status is a Protected Class

[Cross posted at Infinite Diablogue]

David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy tries to understand fair housing law regarding advertising. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt about his argument since he doesn't clearly state it. He thinks he's making a logical argument by pointing out that, for instance, professionals and non-professionals are not protected by the Fair Housing Act.

He complains it should be okay to have ads seeking professionals, students, or stating a preference for a number of people. I'll quote his complaint:

Is it illegal to discriminate against non-professionals? non-Northeastern students? people who like to sleep one in a bed? loud partiers? I suppose these are supposed to be "code words" for discriminatory classfications, but you'd have to be smarter than I am to figure out what, as it strikes me that professionals, partiers, medical workers, etc., come from all groups.

The problem is that he doesn't take into account who is excluded by these descriptions. Using the terms "professionals" is often used as code to deny housing to families with children. The same goes for "students." Both could violate local laws that protect seniors as well.

In an ad he cites advertising a four bedroom place great for 4 or 5 people, the exclusion here is families with children again. HUD operates on a general consideration that 2 persons per bedroom is a reasonable occupancy standard. That would mean up to eight people could live in the unit. Limiting the occupancy to 5 people would exclude families with 6 to 8 persons.

Few people know that the Act protects families with children. It has since 1988 when the Act was amended to include families with children and persons with disabilities.

He complains about a couple other things as well, including wondering why he can't give out racial demographics to prospective renters. This really has to do more with steering people into segregated neighborhoods. The are a number of cases where real estate agents and property owners steered people by race (and other protected classes) into different neighborhoods or buildings. Thus, real estate agents and landlords are discouraged from giving out this type of information.

Bernstein, like many others, seems to be of the mind that discrimination doesn't really occur much anymore. But, it does occur often. In 2000, HUD found that discrimination occurred in 20% of housing transactions by African Americans and Latinos throughout the Chicago region. (And, this is a low estimate based on the protocols of the research survey. I worked on the survey in Chicago and Albuquerque. It did not include incidents where a minority person did not get a call back from a housing provider but a white person did get a call. It also tested for discrimination against African Americans in predominantly African American neighborhoods and against Latinos in predominantly Latino neighborhoods. Both practices lowered the rate of measured discrimination.)

Nationally, In 2004, there were 27,319 complaints of housing discrimination filed with non-profit fair housing centers, HUD, and DOJ. Of these complaints 31% were for disability, 26% were race, 13% familial status, 12% national origin, 6% sex, 2% religion, 1% color, 9% other local protected classes (sexual orientation, source of income, marital status, etc.)

Meanwhile, racial and ethnic segregation continues to be a dominant housing pattern, especially throughout cities east of the Mississippi River. These patterns cannot be accounted for simply by considering economics. (i.e. suburban Atlanta)

There has been progress. But, it isn't as though discrimination is gone or even minimal.

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