Democratic California Rep. Maxine Waters lashed out at Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson on Sunday, claiming he lacks the experience and “intelligence” required for his job amid policy debates about affordable housing, homelessness and housing discrimination.
Waters’ attack against Carson comes after she engaged the HUD secretary last week in an escalating war of words over America’s homelessness crisis.
“I sent him a letter and he sent me a letter claiming that I had no manners et cetera. I basically said to my staff, ‘I really don’t have time to be bothered with somebody who doesn’t know the difference between REO and OEO. This guy just doesn’t have the background, the capability, the intelligence to do the job. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t care about this issue. He rises to the occasion to basically support this president any opportunity that he gets,” Waters told MSNBC’s “AM Joy” host Joy Reid as she slammed the retired neurosurgeon as a lackey for President Donald Trump.
“Housing is a problem in this country, people cannot afford rental units, they cannot afford to buy a house. We’ve gone through the problem in 2008 where many of these homes were foreclosed on because of the exotic products that were being put out by the financial services community, by the banks, the big financial services organizations. And so we cannot stand back and say we can’t get the support that we need. We have to just keep pushing and pushing hard,” she said while discussing proposals to address affordable housing and homelessness.
Waters also criticized Carson over his proposed rule to amend the HUD interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard, which is used to address hidden housing discrimination.
In an August news release, HUD explained that the proposed rule as amended would provide more appropriate guidance on what constitutes unlawful disparate impact to better reflect the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.
“This proposed rule 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. As we have shown time and again, we will challenge any practice that discriminates against people that the law protects. At the end of the day, this rule not only increases Americans’ access to fair and affordable housing, but also permits businesses and local governments to make valid policy choices,” Carson said in a statement at the time.
In a Nov. 22 letter to Carson and HUD, Waters and more than 30 other Democratic members of the House urged Carson not to make the proposed changes because they say it would make it harder for victims of housing discrimination to get justice.
“We write in strong opposition to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed changes to the disparate impact standard under the Fair Housing Act, which would make it harder for everyday Americans who find themselves victims of housing discrimination to get justice. We urge that you immediately rescind this proposed rule and discontinue any further efforts to weaken the Fair Housing Act,” these Democratic members of Congress wrote.
“The disparate impact standard is the most important tool for enforcing the Fair Housing Act in today’s rapidly evolving housing market. The disparate impact standard holds actors accountable for the discriminatory impacts of their actions regardless of whether the discrimination was intentional. Without the disparate impact standard, a plaintiff would essentially have to prove malicious intent as plain as a ‘No Blacks Allowed’ sign in order to get relief,” they argued.
“We remind you that HUD’s mission includes building ‘inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.’ HUD’s ability to carry out this mission will be seriously compromised if it moves forward with this proposed rule, and this is no time to weaken our enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. In 2018, black homeownership rates reached the lowest they had since before the Fair Housing Act was passed and a 2019 study found that black and Latinx borrowers are paying $765 million more in annual interest compared to other borrowers. Researchers and HUD alike found that algorithmic bias in online housing markets are keeping racial minorities from viewing housing opportunities. In light of these concerning trends, HUD should be looking for ways to strengthen its enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, but instead, you have established a shameful record of undermining fair housing,” the representatives added.
More than 40 Senate Democrats also urged Secretary Carson to reject the proposed amendment to disparate impact standard.
“We are deeply troubled by the direction this Administration is heading in relation to Fair Lending and Fair Housing protections,” the senators wrote in their letter to Carson Monday. “Housing is the foundation of opportunity for individuals, families, neighborhoods, and society. Preventing housing discrimination — including subtle, hidden discrimination — is central to the mission Congress charged HUD to carry out. We urge you to uphold this mission, reject the changes in the proposed rule, and preserve the existing rule.”
They argued that the proposal would effectively eliminate use of the disparate impact standard for fair housing enforcement. The current standard allows people to challenge policies that result in discrimination, even if the intent or the language of the policy when created was not discriminatory.
“HUD’s existing Disparate Impact Rule codified a longstanding tool for identifying and remedying housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. It was built on four decades of jurisprudence and validated in the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision upholding the use of disparate impact theory under the Fair Housing Act, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project (‘Inclusive Communities’) The current rule relies on a balanced, three-part burden-shifting framework that follows the same formula as other anti-discrimination legal standards and has been used for decades to seek fair housing access for black and Hispanic people, individuals with disabilities, families with children, and victims of domestic violence,” the 20 Democratic senators argued.
“Under HUD’s proposed framework, disparate impact would exist in name only. HUD’s proposal would dramatically shift the current balanced three-part test affirmed by the Supreme Court in Inclusive Communities to require a plaintiff to meet a five-part test to essentially prove their entire case — and disprove the defendant’s case — before even bringing suit, without the benefit of discovery. Rather than reflect the Inclusive Communities ruling, this Proposed Rule would undo the ruling by making it nearly impossible to prove the disparate impact standard,” they noted.
“While raising the legal bar for victims of discrimination, the proposed rule provides new defenses that will allow financial institutions, insurance companies, governments, and other market participants to continue unnecessary, discriminatory practices. This includes a new safe harbor for policies or practices driven by algorithms. Society is grappling with the far-ranging effects of opaque and proprietary algorithms — often based on data harvested from our online activities — on our daily lives. Algorithms are only as good as the data they are fed and many elements that appear neutral on their face have proven to reinforce discriminatory patterns of the past,” the senators continued.
“Despite these questions, the proposed rule offers an expansive safe harbor for business practices that rely on algorithms to make important decisions governing access to housing, such as credit scores, automated underwriting, and rental tenant-screening systems. This broad exemption will prevent people who have been excluded from housing based on flawed data from having an opportunity to seek redress.”
The proposal to shift the burden of proof onto plaintiffs suing over housing discrimination attracted more than 4,000 responses from housing advocates, public officials, builders, bankers, insurance companies and many other players in the housing market.
“HUD is effectively attempting to eliminate disparate impact as a means of combating discrimination," wrote Paola Laverde, chair of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. "Victims of housing discrimination would be hard-pressed to overcome the exceedingly high bar HUD is proposing to adopt when it comes to bringing fair housing cases using disparate impact. Without disparate impact theory, people experiencing housing discrimination would have to show that a housing provider, city, or other entity intended to discriminate against them, which is nearly impossible to do.”
The Rev. Dr. Felipe N. Martinez, pastor of First Presbyterian Church Columbus, said in his public statement: “As a pastor, I see many people in our community who are in desperate need of affordable housing, and I have seen how a tight housing market and unscrupulous landlords can prey on vulnerable populations, either by charging an exorbitant rent, or by choosing not to rent to people in vulnerable populations (immigrants, people living in poverty who have had an eviction in the past). As a person of faith, I consider fair housing practices and the right to seek justice when disenfranchised to be moral issues.”
“As such, fair access to housing and protection from discriminatory barriers should be held to the highest standards of care. The existing disparate impact rule was implemented to protect the civil rights of vulnerable communities and to curb discrimination. If this proposed rule were passed, vulnerable populations would be unprotected. I urge the rule to be withdrawn in its entirety.”