May 21, 2013


Back in February, we reported the ongoing efforts by housing advocates and Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, to amend the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (CCHRO) to include protections for housing choice voucher holders. On May 8, 2013, the Cook County Board voted 9-6 to exclude section 8 as a non-source of income protection. The amendment will extend significant protections to section 8 recipients, minorities and people with disabilities.

The new law amends the county’s human rights ordinance to effectively prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to potential tenants on the basis of their participation in the section 8 voucher program. A similar policy has been in place in the city of Chicago since 2003. Six other municipalities in Illinois, ten states, the District of Columbia, and ten counties across the country have laws in place that protect individuals from discrimination based on using housing choice vouchers.

Many obstacles inhibited the progress of this amendment. This included stereotypes surrounding voucher holders. Many housing providers assumed vouchers holders will be bad neighbors and decrease property value or will bring crime. That stereotype builds from the fact that, because voucher holders are often refused housing, they are forced to live in high crime, high poverty neighborhoods and communities where the vouchers are accepted. Additionally, studies have proven that housing providers refuse to rent to voucher holders as a pretext for other types of illegal discrimination based on race, familial status, and disability.  There was also some opposition from realtors and landlord groups who have argued that the amendment would restrict landlords' freedom to participate in a government program.

However, voucher holders are some of the most scrutinized tenants and must meet the rigorous criteria of the voucher administration as well as comply with lease provisions. Nearly 40% of voucher recipients are employed and more than 30% are seniors or persons with disabilities. There is absolutely no evidence that persons who use housing choice vouchers make increase crime in communities. Landlords only have to complete three forms. Payments made by the housing authority are made electronically. Units must pass a Housing Quality Standards inspection and voucher recipients have to complete most of the paperwork.
Commissioner Garcia noted, “The adoption of this amendment would remove a cloud that has hung over Cook County government for many years. Currently our human rights amendment allows [landlords] to declare less advantaged persons in Cook County as persona non grata – that means people who are not welcome.” County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also expressed her support for the proposal prior to the board’s vote. The vote to amend the Ordinance ensures that those with housing choice vouchers will no longer be legally discriminated against based on their sources of income. It also sounds the warning that discrimination of this type will no longer be tolerated in Cook County!

May 16, 2013

Sex Discrimination Alive and Well in Mortgage Lending

There is little doubt that, most housing discrimination cases that arise under the Fair Housing Act involve racial and disability based discrimination. Other cases of discrimination such as those based on sex or gender are subtle and often rare. Yet the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says that a round of recent fair housing complaints and mortgage discrimination charges prove that sex discrimination is alive, well and on ascending.

As pointed out in this blog, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against a renter or a homeowner based on race, disability, color, religion, national origin, familial status and sex. Thus, gender-based discrimination in lending practices is illegal. This includes claims for imposition of different mortgage terms, and claims for refusal to extend a loan based on the gender of the applicant or buyer.

Despite these protections, investigations by HUD and the New York Times show that, accessing a mortgage is more difficult if you are a pregnant mother.  According to HUD, it receives regular complaints that banks and brokers deny women loans based on pregnancy or maternity leave.  Some lenders single pregnant women out for different treatment and offer them different, less desirable mortgage products (when they do not deny them outright.).

HUD has been investigating dozens of complaints against lenders who allegedly denied families mortgages because the wife was pregnant or on maternity leave. As John Trasvia, HUD’s assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity noted, “Where lenders run up against the law is where they single out pregnant women for a difference in treatment based upon an assumption that either they’re not being paid on leave, they don’t have a job to go back to, or that they are unwilling to go back.” Under the law, lenders may not use parental leave as a basis for denial if the borrower demonstrates that she intends to return to work, and otherwise has enough income to qualify for the loan.

Since the government’s investigations began, several lenders, including Cornerstone Mortgage and Bank of America, have reached agreements to settle complaints of discrimination. Also, a settlement was recently reached involving a Navy veteran who said a PNC Mortgage representative in Trumbull, Connecticut, told her she had to be back at work from maternity leave to obtain a Veterans Affairs loan. According to the complaint, the woman and her husband negotiated an extended closing date for a house they were buying in Newington, so she wouldn’t have to cut her leave short. They said the seller charged them $3,000 more. Under the settlement, PNC will pay the couple $15,000. In addition, the company will review V.A., loan applications from the last two years in New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to determine whether any denials were based on pregnancy or maternity leave.

However, it is important to note that in general, gender or sex discrimination in housing is not unique to women. Courts have recognized that the rules protect men, as well as women, in finding owners liable for denying housing to male applicants on the assumption that they were more likely to damage the property or host loud parties than female residents.