How to Fulfill Your Duty to Prevent Race Discrimination (Article 3 of 6) - Beware of Unlawful Steering

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When showing available units in your community, refrain from any comments or conduct that suggest a prospect should—or shouldn’t—live at your community, or in a particular area within your community—because of her race or color. It’s considered “steering,” an unlawful practice under the FHA, if you direct, guide, or encourage prospects, based on an illegally discriminatory reason, to rent only certain units at a community or to seek alternate living options.

Example: In June 2020, HUD announced that it reached a $200,000 settlement with a public housing authority in Alabama after a HUD compliance review identified racial discrimination in the housing authority’s rental policies, waiting lists, and transfer requests with regard to its senior residents. HUD reported that its review showed that the housing authority discriminated against elderly Black applicants who applied for housing at more desirable properties by repeatedly skipping over them on the wait list even though they were next to receive a unit. Allegedly, Black applicants were also steered to less desirable units at one of the housing authority’s racially and ethnically concentrated properties. The housing authority denied the allegations but agreed to settle the case.

Example: In May 2020, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of multifamily housing communities in Georgia, alleging that they violated federal fair housing law by intentionally discriminating on the basis of race against African-American applicants for housing.

The lawsuit alleged that from at least 2012 to 2018, the defendants steered African-American housing applicants who were elderly or had a disability away from a predominantly white housing complex to a predominantly African-American housing complex, which was inferior in appearance, location, and amenities to the predominantly white community. Both complexes were located in the same city in Georgia. The complaint also alleged that the defendants subjected African-American residents who are elderly or have a disability to less favorable rental terms, conditions, and privileges as compared to similarly situated white residents, and denied African-American applicants more desirable units at the predominantly white community. The complaint contains allegations of unlawful conduct, which must be proven in federal court.

“Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968 to protect Americans from the racially motivated violence and discrimination that has stained our nation’s history. More than five decades later, our nation regrettably continues to suffer the scourge of racial bias,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to fight to protect the rights of all Americans to rent and own their homes without regard to their race.”


What Is Steering?

According to HUD regulations, unlawful steering includes:

  • Discouraging prospects from renting a unit because of a protected characteristic of the prospect or the people living in the community;
  • Exaggerating drawbacks or failing to inform any person about desirable features of a unit or the community because of a protected characteristic;
  • Telling the prospect that he wouldn’t be comfortable or compatible with existing residents of the community because of a protected characteristic; or
  • Assigning applicants to a particular section of a community or floor of a building because of a protected characteristic.

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