HUD Issues Guidance Regarding the Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records
On April 4, HUD issued guidance deploying a disparate impact analysis with respect to the Fair Housing Act’s application to the use of criminal history by those who come under the Fair Housing Act, and in particular by providers or operators of housing and real-estate related transactions. The guidance indicates that, because African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population, criminal records-based barriers to housing are likely to have a disproportionate impact on minority home seekers. HUD then walks through the three step burden-shifting disparate impact analysis to support its argument. To determine whether the use of criminal history has, on its face, a discriminatory effect, HUD looks at national statistics to demonstrate that incarceration rates are disproportionate for African Americans and Hispanics. HUD also notes that, while state or local statistics should be presented when available, national statistics may be used where state or local statistics are not readily available and there is no reason to believe they would differ markedly from the national statistics. HUD then moves to a discussion of whether the practice is necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest. HUD warns that, while ensuring resident safety and protecting property may be considered substantial and legitimate interests, bald assertions based on generalizations or stereotypes that any individual with an arrest or conviction record poses a greater risk than any individual without such a record would be insufficient to satisfy the burden set by the second prong. For the final prong, regarding the availability of a less discriminatory alternative, HUD notes that the inquiry is fact specific, but suggests that individualized assessment of relevant mitigating information beyond that contained in an individual’s criminal record is likely to have a less discriminatory effect than a categorical exclusion that does not take additional information into account. The guidance also discusses the potential for intentional discrimination, and notes that a disparate treatment violation may be proven based on evidence that exceptions to a general disqualification based on criminal record are provided to white applicants, but not African American applicants.