Politics & Government

NC attorney general joins opposition to federal fair housing rule changes

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North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein joined nearly half of the country’s attorneys general to oppose the Trump administration’s proposal that critics say would weaken fair housing laws by making it harder to prove discrimination.

Stein was one of 22 state attorneys general to submit comments criticizing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed changes to its rules about disparate impact, or unintentional discrimination claims.

Critics say the changes would make it easier to discriminate against people trying to rent or buy a home.

“Fighting discrimination and ensuring everyone is treated equally is central to building stable, successful communities in North Carolina,” Stein said in a statement Friday. “The existing rule helps ensure equal housing opportunities for everyone – I urge HUD to abandon its proposed weakening of these critical protections.”

Disparate impact refers to policies that are formally neutral but in practice adversely affect a protected class, regardless of intent. The proposed HUD rule change drew sharp opposition from several civil rights groups, including the Americans Civil Liberties Union and National Fair Housing Alliance.

Among the proposed changes, the burden to prove disparate impact moves from the defendant — such as a landlord or lender — to the plaintiff, often a renter or home-buyer. It also requires the plaintiff to prove the challenged policy is “arbitrary, artificial, and unnecessary.”

In an August statement published with the proposed rule, Carson said the change “is intended to increase legal clarity and promote the production and availability of housing in all areas while making sure every person is treated fairly under the law.”

The Fair Housing Act protects Americans against discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status or disability.

A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed that disparate impact claims can be brought under Fair Housing Act. Plaintiffs in the Texas-based case successfully argued the state agency that awards tax credits for low-income housing developments disproportionately gave funds to projects in low-income minority communities over majority-white suburban areas.

Friday marked the end of a 60-day public comment period required before the rule can be implemented.

This work was made possible in part by grant funding from Report for America/GroundTruth Project and the Foundation For The Carolinas.

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