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California governor blames Trump for delayed homeless aid

California’s governor on Wednesday blamed the Trump administration for withholding data that is blocking the release of $650 million in state aid to combat homelessness.

California’s cities and counties have been waiting since June for the money approved by the state Legislature. But state law says the money can only be distributed based on federally approved homelessness counts for 2019.

Most California communities submitted their homeless counts months ago. But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has not yet approved them.

…“I think it worries all of us that t hey are somehow trying to politicize the numbers or use them for some political purpose,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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Western Center Submits Comments to HUD Opposing Changes to Disparate Impact in Fair Housing

To read Western Center’s full comments, click here. An excerpt can be found below:

The Fair Housing Act was passed in the wake of Martin Luther King Junior’s assassination with the goal of moving closer to some of the ideals he gave his life to pursue – ending segregation and ensuring that all people could live in the community of their choice regardless of the color of their skin. This landmark civil rights law has been a critical tool in moving towards a more integrated nation where everyone can live in the community of their choice; but we have a long way to go before realizing its goals. HUD’s proposed rule profoundly undermines the Fair Housing Act (FHA). If finalized, the rule will make enforcement of the FHA’s protections impossible except in cases where the perpetrator of discriminatory conduct announces their ill intent. Corporate interests, including the insurance companies that this Rule appears intended to benefit, are too sophisticated to state their intent to discriminate.

Courts have recognized for the past half-century that the Fair Housing Act should be interpreted to reach conduct where a protected group is disproportionately harmed even through no intent to discriminate can be clearly shown. As the Supreme Court recognized in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, disparate impact liability is critical to address those issues at the “heartland” of the Fair Housing Act. While HUD professes to be implementing the Supreme Court’s decision with this proposal, it is in fact undermining and eviscerating the concept of disparate impact liability and the ICP decision. If this Rule is finalized, the Fair Housing Act will be much more difficult to enforce. With this proposal, HUD is abdicating its duty to further enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.

Statement on Trump Administration’s Proposed Rule Change for Fair Housing

The Trump Administration has proposed a new rule interpreting an important civil rights theory in a way that would significantly weaken enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws. The rule would make it more difficult to allege and prove discrimination by a housing provider.

For more than 50 years, the Fair Housing Act has served as a vital tool in expanding housing opportunity for protected groups. In that time, the shape of housing discrimination has shifted away from overt, differential treatment, as sophisticated housing providers no longer advertise their intent to exclude protected classes. Housing discrimination increasingly takes the form of “disparate impact,” where a facially-neutral policy or practice has an adverse impact on minorities. The ability to allege discrimination via disparate impact is incredibly important for enforcing fair housing laws.

The Administration’s proposed rule increases the standard for bringing a disparate impact suit to the point that it would become, in practice, close to impossible. It suggests that landlords, banks, insurance companies, and other powerful entities should not be responsible for the discriminatory housing practices they perpetuate, and ignores the fact that housing segregation in the United States remains ubiquitous, and access to housing unequal. The underlying patterns, practices, and problems that create segregated housing have not been solved, especially for people of color – the proposed rule disregards that reality.

The proposal includes multiple provisions that limit civil rights enforcement, including:

  • Transforming the current, three-part, burden-shifting test into a five-part prima facie evidentiary test that would require a plaintiff to identify and demonstrate that a specific policy has a discriminatory outcome in order to move past pleading;
  • Forcing plaintiffs to plead a “robust causal link” between the defendant’s housing practice and the resulting injury;
  • Limiting liability for housing providers when they rely on automated decision-making systems and algorithms that perpetuate discrimination in the housing market;
  • Providing insurance companies some safe harbor from liability where they can assert compliance with state law; and
  • Changing the strong vicarious liability standard in fair housing law to a piecemeal, state-by-state assessment of agency-principal liability.

These changes, largely inconsistent with existing case law, inhibit civil rights enforcement by making it more difficult for victims of discrimination to bring their case to court.

The proposal is in line with the Trump administration’s attitude toward American race relations – which is either to ignore it or exacerbate it. The proposed rule assumes racism and discrimination are things of the past, and that all that we need to do now is passively denounce overt racism. That fantasy ignores the reality of discrimination in the contemporary United States, particularly within the housing market. It also ignores a growing body of implicit bias research that says preferences against people of color are deeply ingrained in our society, and that deliberate intervention is necessary to prevent such bias from determining social outcomes.

California and the rest of the nation is in the midst of a housing crisis. Additionally, the majority of people in California are part of a protected minority group, but the people with power, money, and influence are still disproportionately white. Without active protections, that dynamic is a recipe for discrimination and stagnation. This proposed rule would cripple access to housing at a time when California and the country can’t afford to lose any ground in the quest to keep people housed.

The proposed rule has not yet been adopted. We and our partners in California and beyond will fight vigorously against the rule as it makes its way through the administrative process. Stay tuned for updates on how you can comment and advocate for the preservation of this essential civil rights enforcement tool.