What you can do to stop the White House from making segregation easier

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Picketers outside City Hall in 1964 protest a building code change that they said would further racial segregation in Chicago.

Picketers outside City Hall in 1964 protest a building code change that they said would further racial segregation in Chicago.


The Chicago metropolitan area continues to be among the most segregated in the nation, and not by accident.

As any brief review of the history of redlining and racially restrictive covenants makes clear, our segregated cities were planned as a matter of public and private policies.

Although the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 made many such practices illegal, the work to deconstruct intentionally created segregation continues.

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One critical legal tool to do this is the Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Rule. But if changes recently proposed by the Trump administration take effect, our ability to challenge discriminatory practices under the rule will be significantly weakened.

Disparate impact has been a bedrock principle under the Fair Housing Act for more than 40 years, allowing individuals and communities to fight insidious and difficult-to-detect forms of discrimination.Simply put, the rule allows unjustified policies or practices that disproportionately harm people based on their race, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, family status or gender to be legally challenged.

For example, in 2012, then Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to challenge the disparate impact Wells Fargo’s lending practices had on people of color. In that case, brokers allegedly steered African American borrowers toward riskier subprime loans, and reportedly charged more than 30,000 people of color increased interest rates and fees when compared to White borrowers with similar credit risks;

Black customers in Chicago paid an average of $2,937 more in fees than similarly situated white customers. The case was settled for $175 million, with the money used to compensate borrowers and communities.

If the Trump administration’s proposed rule change goes into effect, it will be virtually impossible to bring claims like those in the Wells Fargo case.The proposed rule creates overly burdensome technical requirements for those who would attempt to mount a disparate impact legal argument. It would put a tremendous burden on the plaintiff to prove that a company’s policy or practice is discriminatory, requiring internal knowledge of the company that they could not possibly have.

It also includes glaring and unnecessary carve-outs for entire industries whose discretion is limited in some way by other federal, state or local laws, such as insurance companies. And it eliminates accountability for companies using third-party technologies, such as a mortgage lender using automated underwriting technology.

The issues underpinning our region’s residential segregation are complex and deeply rooted and change will come only by addressing not just individual acts of discrimination but also the public and private policies and practices that perpetuate it.

The Trump administration’s proposed changes to the Disparate Impact Rule would severely weaken efforts to combat housing discrimination in Chicago, Cook County and across the country — but we do not have to allow this attack on our civil rights to move forward unchallenged.Individuals and organizations can submit public comments on the proposed rule through Oct. 18, 2019.

For more information on protecting access to justice, please visit defendcivilrights.org.

Sharon Legenza is the executive director for Housing Action Illinois. Patricia Fron is the executive director for the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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