The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLC) commends the regulation that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued on February 5, 2013 entitled “Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard.” The regulation reinforces that the Federal Fair Housing Act makes illegal not only policies and practices intended to discriminate, but also policies and practices that are neutral on their faces but have discriminatory effects, or a disparate impact.
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for both public and private entities to discriminate in housing based on race, national origin, familial status, physical or mental disability, sex, and religion. The Act protects basic fairness by seeking to eliminate housing discrimination and promote inclusive communities for all Americans.
Holding housing actors responsible for the discriminatory effects of their policies safeguards the right to a fair chance for everyone. Where you live determines the school your child attends, where you work and how you get there, and your access to health care, nutritious food, and other resources. Unfortunately, policies and practices still exist that – intentionally and unintentionally - keep some people out of quality housing they can afford simply because of who they are.
The new regulation clarifies that neutral policies of both government and private actors that have a disparate discriminatory impact on a protected group, or create, perpetuate or increase segregation, are illegal under the Fair Housing Act. This interpretation is consistent with the uniform interpretation of the Act by HUD and the federal courts, which have consistently, for decades, have supported legal liability for policies with disparate impact.
Examples of neutral policies with discriminatory disparate effects include:
- lender policies and practices not based on the risk of the loan, such as requiring a credit score above the Federal Housing Authority minimum, or minimum loan amount policies;
- municipalities restricting construction of multifamily or affordable housing in areas of opportunity;
- municipalities restricting the siting of group homes for people with disabilities;
- landlords unreasonably limiting occupancy of apartments to, for example, three persons per unit; and
- landlords placing their (predominantly African-American) Housing Choice Voucher tenants in their inferior buildings in neighborhoods with relatively fewer amenities.
Staff and volunteers with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing Project educate tenants, homeowners, landlords, and others about their rights and duties under fair housing and fair lending laws, advocate for progressive laws and public policies, and provide legal representation to individuals and groups in asserting and enforcing their fair housing rights and securing equal housing opportunities to affirmatively further fair housing in the Chicago area.
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. protects and promotes civil rights by bringing the strength and prestige of the private bar to bear on the problems of poverty and discrimination. Founded in 1969, the Committee champions equal justice and community development for underrepresented people by partnering with volunteer lawyers to provide litigation and transactional representation.
For further information, contact Fair Housing Project Director Betsy Shuman-Moore, email@example.com.
Incarceration is one of the most important civil rights issues of our day. With approximately 2.4 million people incarcerated, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The problem is especially acute in Illinois. Non-violent offenders comprise over 60% of the prison and jail population in America, and in Illinois they constitute almost 70% of inmates. In 2010, Illinois reported the largest increase of its prison population among all other states. Incarceration is also overtly racial, despite the fact that African Americans use drugs at the same rate as Whites and Latinos, African Americans represented an average of 80 percent of all persons admitted to Illinois prisons for drug offenses in the 1990s. The critical need for incarceration reform prompted the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to review nationwide reforms that are providing alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.
The following article assesses the current landscape of incarceration reform by identifying specific reforms seeking to provide incarceration alternatives for non-violent offenders, highlighting states that have implemented comprehensive versions of these reforms, and taking a critical look at Illinois’ policy towards non-violent offenders.
Implementing reforms for non-violent offenders has gained momentum recently, and such reforms have been accompanied by notable success. All 17 states that have cut their imprisonment rates also experienced a decline in crime rates. Moreover, keeping non-violent offenders out of the incarceration system saves resources and allows states to reallocate those resources for offenders who pose a threat to public safety. States have implemented reforms by widely establishing drug courts and diversion programs, updating legislation to reduce the severity level of non-violent offenses, relying on alternative sentencing options, and decriminalizing marijuana.
Although Illinois has enacted legislative changes that effect non-violent offenders, there are still important reforms it can adopt to critically impact its incarceration rate of non-violent offenders. The current trend of reforms nationwide provides useful examples for Illinois to draw upon. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is alert to the need for reform, and hopes this article prompts a preliminary discussion on strategic ways to implement such reforms.
To read the full report, click here.