In recent days, both Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest lender, and The National Association of Realtors (NAR), the nations’ largest trade organization, have called on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to withdraw its proposed rule to amend the HUD interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard.
Bill Emerson, vice chairman of Quicken Loans, expressed his company’s concern about the impact of the proposed rule changes during the pandemic in a letter sent to HUD Deputy Secretary Brian Montgomery on Friday:
We recognize that the proposed changes are intended to clarify the use of disparate impact in housing discrimination cases. We agree that unclear rules in the housing and mortgage markets can, and often do, constrain lending and investment in the space, harming those the rules are intended to help. However, legitimate concerns have been raised about how the proposed rule proposed would make it difficult to address some of the more challenging systemic issues of discrimination that the Fair Housing Act should be used to address… In the spirit of that moment, policymakers and industry participants alike should look beyond the surface forms of discrimination to those that lie beneath, because the effects are often no less destructive.
In its letter released on Monday, NAR said that HUD’s revisions place too heavy a burden on the ability of parties to bring legitimate initial disparate impact claims. NAR President Vince Malta went on to say there is broad consensus that “now is not the time to issue a regulation that could hinder further progress toward addressing ongoing systemic racism.” Rather, he suggested this is a time to explore ways to work together “to eliminate unnecessary barriers to housing opportunity and advance policies that allow more Americans to fully participate in the American Dream.”
Bryan Greene, NAR’s director of fair housing policy, said that a realtor’s livelihood depends on his or her ability to sell homes.
It is in every realtor’s interests to eliminate barriers that unfairly deny housing opportunities to any segments of our population. According to disparate impact doctrine, practices that disproportionately turn some groups away and can’t be justified as necessary on business grounds – or that could be served in a less discriminatory way – including lending practices, housing practices, and governmental policies, can be challenged by consumers.
Last August, HUD proposed making changes to the nation’s fair housing rules. The updated guidelines revised the current three-step threshold for Fair Housing violations and imposed a specific, five-step approach that would require regulators to prove intentional discrimination on the lender’s behalf.