The Fair Housing Act, HUD, and Segregation by Eviction
Devin Rutan is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and Social Policy at Princeton University. Renee Louis is a research specialist with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. These researchers demonstrate that eviction is a process with abundant opportunities for violations of the Fair Housing Act making overall housing markets more unequal and American cities more segregated.
Specifically, for Bloomberg City Lab, they highlight how evictions perpetuate the cycle of residential segregation, yet aren’t addressed in a new proposed fair housing rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A greater understanding of the Fair Housing Act and HUD will provide better insight into how what only can be called segregation by eviction.
Fair Housing Act
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) during the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) assassination riots. Titles VIII through IX are commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, which was meant as a follow‑up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (this is different legislation than the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, which we’ll discuss later, that expanded housing funding programs). While the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibited discrimination in housing, there were no federal enforcement provisions.
The 1968 act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and since 1974, sex. Since 1988, the act protects people with disabilities and families with children. Pregnant women are also protected from illegal discrimination because they have been given familial status with their unborn child being the other family member. Victims of discrimination may use both the 1968 act and the 1866 act’s section 1983 to seek redress.
The 1968 act provides for federal solutions while the 1866 act provides for private solutions (i.e., civil suits). The act also made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone… by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin, handicap or familial status.
Affirmatively Further Fair Housing
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) is a provision of the 1968 federal Fair Housing Act requiring that “All executive departments and agencies shall administer their programs and activities relating to housing and urban development (including any Federal agency having regulatory or supervisory authority over financial institutions) in a manner affirmatively to further the purposes of” the Fair Housing Act. The law also requires the Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer all HUD programs in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing.
Since the Fair Housing Act has a dual purpose — the elimination of both housing discrimination and residentially segregated communities — affirmatively furthering fair housing is essentially fulfilling the dual purpose of the law, proponents said. There is a significant link between appropriate housing, community involvement and health. According to the World Health Organization’s 2018 Housing and Health Guidelines, improved housing conditions can save lives, prevent disease, increase quality of life, reduce poverty, and help mitigate climate change.
Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968
The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 also came on the heels of major riots across cities throughout the U.S. in 1967 in combination with the assassination of MLK in April 1968, and the publication of the report of the Kerner Commission, which recommended major expansions in public funding and support of urban areas. LBJ referred to the legislation as one of the most significant laws ever passed in the U.S., due to its scale and ambition. The act’s declared intention was constructing or rehabilitating 26 million housing units, 6 million of these for low- and moderate-income families, over the next 10 years.
The act authorized $5.3 billion in spending over its first three years, designed to fund 1.7 million units over that time. In the longer term, the act was designed to cost $50 billion over 10 years, had it ever been fully implemented. Its policies were to be implemented by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which had been created in 1965.
The legislation provided a significant expansion in funding for public programs, such as Public Housing. But it also marked a shift in Federal programs, increasingly focusing on using private developers as a strategy to encourage housing production of affordable units. Though the program’s 10-year ambitions were not achieved, in some ways it set the tone for future U.S. approaches to policy because of this focus on public-private joint initiatives in achieving public ends.
Eviction and the Biden Administration
Rutan and Louis inform us that on June 10, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reintroduced the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule to reverse increasing levels of segregation in American cities. But the rule (proposed by the Obama Administration in 2015 and nixed by the Trump Administration in 2018) does not mention, much less target, eviction. The new policy will require local governments to demonstrate that they are taking “meaningful action” to promote fair housing markets, free from discrimination.
The Biden Administration believes that the policy is critical for achieving their goals for housing equity requiring local governments to demonstrate that they are taking “meaningful action” to promote fair housing markets free from discrimination. The problem is that being able to secure an apartment does not mean very much if you are evicted after a few months. The disproportionate use of eviction, particularly, against women of color means that fair housing opportunities are often fleeting.
Rutan and Louis:
Racial inequalities pervade the eviction crisis. Nationwide, our research shows that Black Americans are significantly more likely to be evicted than their white peers. Nearly a quarter of Black tenants live in a county where the eviction rate for Black tenants is double the rate for white tenants. In Virginia, 60% of majority-Black neighborhoods have eviction rates greater than 10% — quadruple the national average. These racial disparities in eviction are even more extreme for Black women. And they’re exactly the kinds of impacts the Fair Housing Act is meant to address.
Eviction Due to Family Status
Discrimination in housing affecting black women is not only limited to race but includes characteristics like family status. Rutan and Louis describe how landlords often perceive children as a liability and an expense, and often target families with young children for eviction.
A family with children, all else being equal, is three times more likely to be evicted as another tenant who is also behind on the same amount of rent. The presence of children is one of the strongest predictors of an eviction ensuring that eviction has multigenerational consequences affecting a child’s health, education and development.
Eviction as a Weapon
The threat of eviction can be used to silence tenants who experience hazardous conditions or live in homes desperate for repairs with landlords sometimes retaliate against tenants and filing for eviction instead of solving the issues. Some have even used the threat of an eviction to to cover up sexual harassment or coerce sex from tenants, all clear violations of the Fair Housing Act.
Rights Upon Eviction
Most states do not give low-income defendants in housing court the right to an attorney; therefore, many tenants, facing imminent homelessness without any legal advice, decide to either give up or move on rather than exercise their rights to equal treatment, a safe home and other basic protections. The disparities in eviction rates, by race, gender and familial status, suggest a concerning level of disenfranchisement from even basic rights as citizens and consumers.
Local Government’s Role In Eviction
Many localities have policies that exacerbate eviction disparities with an example being nuisance ordinances that pressure landlords to evict tenants for calling 911 multiple times. While many claim that these laws reduce crime by removing tenants involved in criminal activity; in practice, nuisance ordinances are largely used against victims of crime such as survivors of domestic violence who are disproportionately women of color.
Suburban communities often adopt these rules to police which renters can live in their community, using statements about “crime” to mask racism. By constructing a rule which inevitably, if not intentionally, leads to the disproportionate use of eviction against women, tenants of color or other groups, cities are likely in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act. Whether de facto or de jure, the effects of the policies are the same.
Eviction Leads To Segregation
Rutan and Louis:
Evictions perpetuate the cycle of residential segregation. Research shows that when someone is evicted, they begin a desperate search for a new place to live that often pushes them into poorer, more segregated neighborhoods and worse housing conditions. Even in instances when a tenant paid their rent or won the eviction case, the filing record alone can follow a tenant for years. HUD’s rule is meant to “promote fair housing choice” but tenants with an eviction record, disproportionately Black women, are permanently locked out of most housing options. With millions of households facing eviction each year, any attempt by HUD at reducing segregation without explicitly addressing evictions will fall short.
Like with most ills affecting historically disenfranchised and marginalized people, eviction is a seemingly never ending cycle. Luckily, all hope is not lost.
Fixing Segregation By Eviction
HUD can incorporate eviction into the AFFH rule. Local governments can provide tenants with representation in housing court. Cities and states can seal eviction records, and attorney generals and district attorneys can prioritize landlords who repeatedly file evictions for screenings.
Requiring cities to certify they are taking steps to evaluate and address any discrimination or patterns of disparate impact in the eviction process, making plans to proactively root out illegal forms of inequality, promoting fairness and redressing abuse in the eviction process, and making sure filing or an eviction in your history is no longer a barrier to future housing, ensures compliance with the Fair Housing Act.
Federal lawmakers also can pass the bipartisan Eviction Crisis Act, creating a national database of eviction records that would enable local governments to monitor landlords for potential violations of the Fair Housing Act. Federal laws will not be enforced without federal leadership.
Severity of the Eviction Crisis
Landlords file for eviction against millions of Americans each year. The data is still incomplete and understanding is still lacking on some of the basic facts about the eviction crisis. Disparities in eviction — and the American housing market broadly — will only continue to fester, as they have since 2015, if they are left in the dark, unmeasured and unchecked.