It’s not every day that big corporations and trade associations lobby the government to deny them regulatory relief. It’s even rarer that such a request should represent a departure from their industries’ previous positions. Yet that is exactly what is happening now in the vital field of fair housing law — the latest evidence that the national movement against systemic racism is having an impact.
At issue is the Trump administration’s proposed regulation to implement a 2015 Supreme Court interpretation of the Fair Housing Act. In that ruling, the justices affirmed that the law banned not only explicitly intentional housing discrimination but also the “disparate impact” of ostensibly neutral business practices. Since banks, real estate agents and others rarely leave “smoking gun” evidence of racial or other bias, disparate-impact litigation is key to rooting out the implicit factors that result in segregated neighborhoods or apartment buildings. Indeed, this may be doubly important as computer algorithms — and the assumptions upon which they are based — guide more and more decisions about who gets mortgages or leases.