Column: Trump wants to ease rules against housing discrimination. Even Realtors say he’s gone too far
The great rollbacks began as soon as Donald Trump took office.
The Iran nuclear deal. The Paris climate accords. DACA. Clean air and water regulations.
Trump’s zeal to destroy the legacy of President Obama has been so single minded that you might be forgiven for thinking it’s his only ideology. Well, that and white supremacy.
Almost every aspect of our lives has been touched by Trump’s obsession with undoing Obama-era laws and regulations that make our air and water cleaner, give us access to health insurance, make the workplace safer, and so on.
Now the Trump Administration has proposed a new regulation that would make it more difficult for people to prove they’ve been the victims of housing discrimination.
That’s hardly a surprise, given the Trump family’s history with allegations of race discrimination in its apartment rental business. In 1973, the Justice Department filed a civil rights case against the Trumps, alleging they refused to rent to Black people and had employees secretly code rental applications with the letter “c” for “colored.”
Without admitting guilt, the family signed a consent decree in 1975 that required them to refrain from discrimination and to “thoroughly acquaint themselves personally on a detailed basis” with the Fair Housing Act, as the Washington Post reported. Do you suppose Trump ever completed the assignment?
Last summer, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a significant revision to a 2013 rule dealing with the “disparate impact” standard. Under the law, “disparate impact” refers to practices that adversely affect one group of people — let’s say African Americans — even though the rules appear on their surface to be neutral. The language of the administration’s proposed changes is technical and obtuse.
All you really need to know is that Obama made it less onerous for discrimination victims to prove their case; Trump wants to make it more difficult.
In the 1960s, when I was in elementary school and we lived in Northridge, my parents were members of the San Fernando Valley Fair Housing Council. They were “testers,” people who would pose as potential renters to see whether a landlord was discriminating against people based on race.
A black couple would show up to look at an apartment, only to be told by the landlord that it had already been rented. Then my parents would show up and often be told the place was still available.
Housing discrimination is still rampant, and the technique my parents used is still valuable. It was used to extraordinary effect by Newsday, which last year published the results of a three-year investigation into housing discrimination on Long Island.
Using testers, Newsday found rampant racial discrimination among real estate agents, who steered Black, Asian and Latino would-be home buyers away from mostly white neighborhoods and steered whites away from neighborhoods with greater racial diversity.
The agents, who were secretly recorded, often would demand legal identification and mortgage pre-approval letters from people of color before even showing a single home to them. Some demanded exclusivity agreements. White people were simply assumed to be qualified. Often, they were shown far more homes than people of color, who were given limited options.
Redlining, or refusing to lend or insure properties within a certain geographical area, has been illegal for decades. Nowadays, as the Newsday investigation showed, housing discrimination is accomplished in far more subtle ways.
“I would have never known,” tester Johnnie Mae Alston, a retired state worker who is Black told Newsday. “They make you feel like they are treating you like everybody else… But once you see the other side, you realize you aren’t treated that well.”
As you would expect, fair housing advocates, civil rights groups and Democrats immediately protested HUD’s proposal to make it harder to prove housing discrimination.
But even the National Assn. of Realtors smelled a rat.
“Now is not the time to issue a regulation that could hinder further progress on addressing ongoing systemic racism in our country,” wrote NAR President Vince Malta in a July 13 letter asking HUD Secretary Ben Carson to withdraw the proposed rule.
Police killings of Black people and a pandemic that has disproportionately hit people of color, wrote Malta, “have been painful reminders of the devastating impact of discrimination and segregation on racial minorities in nearly every facet of American life.”
NAR, he added, “continues to reckon with the role it played decades ago in segregating our metropolitan areas and … ongoing housing discrimination.” (Decades ago, NAR’s code of ethics prohibited integration.)
For too long, racist tools like redlining, restrictive covenants and steering kept Black families from buying homes, and from enjoying the substantial accumulation of generational wealth that home ownership in booming post-war decades afforded so many white Americans.
We have barely begun to right those wrongs.
Making it harder to prove housing discrimination is not just wrong.
It’s immoral … and downright Trumpian.
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