When Families Face Housing Discrimination, Too

When Families Face Housing Discrimination, Too

This week HUD unveiled new rules for the Fair Housing Act—a law passed in 1968 that was meant to both protect selected groups from discrimination and also “affirmatively further” fair housing. The new resources and regulations, HUD officials hope, will enable more Americans to access affordable housing in high-opportunity areas.

The new HUD rules come on the heels of a major Supreme Court decision affirming that unintentional housing discrimination still amounts to housing discrimination. (For more on this case read Richard Rothstein’s comprehensive Prospect report.)

While most media outlets have rightly focused on how these new developments can impact racially segregated communities, the SCOTUS ruling will also help another protected class under the Fair Housing Act—families.

Though it’s not very well known, it’s illegal under the law to discriminate against someone for his or her familial status. This means that if you’re living in an apartment building, or a condominium, or a house—there generally cannot be specific rules that apply to families with children, children, or even single individuals.

Unsurprisingly, many landlords and homeowner groups still do discriminate regularly based on familial status, and many residents are unaware that this is against the law.

But some residents, like John Jordan, who lives in a D.C. co-op with his wife and nine-year-old daughter, do know their rights and are fed up with being subjected to rules that violate Fair Housing Act protections. Their daughter was riding a scooter around their co-op’s plaza recently when a security guard told her she had to stop because of rules that govern what children can and can’t do there. After several unsuccessful attempts to raise their concerns with the co-op board, John and his wife filed a formal complaint with HUD.

“I don’t appreciate that my daughter can’t do something that other people can do, and frankly the enforcement of this co-op rule is against the law,” he told me.

John Jordan

Tiber Island Co-op Plaza, where John Jordan’s daughter was told she couldn’t scooter.
 

HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said he couldn’t comment on John Jordan’s complaint because the investigation is currently ongoing, but that family discrimination more broadly is certainly a real issue.

Historically, families have had a harder time finding housing due to exclusionary zoning policies, discriminatory rental agents, and seemingly neutral regulations like limits on the number of occupants per room.

Rules, statutes, and regulations created by homeowner associations, condo boards, and landlord groups also often create discriminatory outcomes for families. As more and more apartments and condominiums crop up in cities, attention to these forms of discrimination will become even more important. 

Ultimately this is one more reason we should be grateful that the Supreme Court upheld the “disparate impact” theory last month because proving that minorities, disabled individuals, and families face housing discrimination isn’t always so easy to do.