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On June 25, HUD published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would rescind the agency’s 2020 disparate impact regulation (2020 Rule) and reinstate the agency’s 2013 rule (2013 Rule). The 2020 Rule (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) was intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. The 2020 Rule included, among other things, a modification of the three-step burden-shifting framework in its 2013 Rule, several new elements that plaintiffs must show to establish that a policy or practice has a “discriminatory effect,” and specific defenses that defendants can assert to refute disparate impact claims. Prior to the effective date of the 2020 Rule, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued a preliminary injunction staying HUD’s implementation and enforcement of the 2020 Rule.
After a period of reconsideration, “HUD is proposing to recodify its previously promulgated rule titled, ‘Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard’, which, as of the date of publication of this [NPRM], remains in effect due to the preliminary injunction,” the NPRM stated, adding that HUD “believes the 2013 Rule better states Fair Housing Act jurisprudence and is more consistent with the Fair Housing Act's remedial purposes.” HUD emphasized that the 2013 Rule codified longstanding judicial and agency consensus concerning discriminatory effects law. “Under the 2013 rule, the discriminatory effects framework was straightforward: a policy that had a discriminatory effect on a protected class was unlawful if it did not serve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest or if a less discriminatory alternative could also serve that interest,” HUD said in its press release. “The 2020 rule complicated that analysis by adding new pleading requirements, new proof requirements, and new defenses, all of which made it harder to establish that a policy violates the Fair Housing Act. HUD now proposes to return to the 2013 rule’s straightforward analysis.” Comments on the NPRM are due August 24.
On June 15, OCC acting Comptroller Michael J. Hsu delivered remarks during the CFPB’s Virtual Home Appraisal Bias Event to raise awareness on the importance of reducing bias in real estate appraisals. The event included discussions with civil rights organizations, housing policy experts, and other federal agencies on how bias can occur in real estate appraisals and automated valuation models. Biased appraisals, Hsu noted, have a large impact on lending and contribute to inequity in housing values. He pointed to data from studies showing that homes in Black neighborhoods are valued at approximately half the price as homes in neighborhoods with few or no Black residents. This difference has created a $156 billion cumulative loss in value across the country for majority-Black neighborhoods, Hsu stated. He further emphasized that “[w]hile appraisers and the appraisal process are not often seen as parts of the banking system, there are clear intersections. Banking regulations require appraisals on certain transactions, and banks rely on third-party appraisals in their underwriting and overall risk management practices. Regulators, including the OCC, expect banks to ensure their vendors treat customers fairly and do not discriminate, and we are seeing banks held accountable for discrimination in appraisals they use.” Hsu added that holding banks accountable, while necessary, is not enough to solve the problem of biased appraisals, and that a solution will require collaboration between all stakeholders, including the attendees participating in the Bureau’s event.
On June 1, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss claims that its allegedly discriminatory mortgage lending practices violated the Fair Housing Act. According to a complaint filed by the County of Cook in Illinois (County), the increase in foreclosures during the relevant time period were proximately caused by the bank’s mortgage practices, and caused the County to incur financial injury, including foreclosure-related and judicial proceeding costs and municipal expenses due to an increase in vacant properties. The bank filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that that the County did not have standing to sue because “the judicial proceedings and other activities associated with the additional foreclosures” actually “yielded a net benefit to the County.” The court disagreed, ruling that all the County had to do was show a reasonable argument that the bank’s lending practices resulted in foreclosures. The bank “does not dispute that the County has properly alleged in its complaint a financial injury sufficient, at least at the pleading stage, to support standing,” the court wrote.
On April 12, the Office of Management and Budget posted notices pending regulatory review related to two HUD fair housing rules rescinded under the Trump administration. The first notice announces a pending proposed rule to reinstate HUD’s Discriminatory Effects Standard related to a September 2020 final rule issued by the agency, which amended its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s 2013 disparate impact standard. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the final rule was intended to align HUD’s 2013 Rule with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. The final rule included, among other things, a modification of the three-step burden-shifting framework in its 2013 Rule, several new elements that plaintiffs must show to establish that a policy or practice has a “discriminatory effect,” and specific defenses that defendants can assert to refute disparate impact claims. Earlier in January, President Biden directed HUD to examine the effects of the final rule, emphasizing that HUD has a “statutory duty to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The second notice relates to a pending interim final rule: Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing; Restoring Statutory Definitions and Certifications. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last July HUD announced plans to terminate the 2015 version of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, and proposed a new final rule titled “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice.” At the time, HUD stated that the AFFH rule was, among other things, overly burdensome, costly, and ineffective.
In March, NYDFS released a report detailing the findings of an investigation into whether a global technology company and a New York state-chartered bank allegedly discriminated against women when making underwriting decisions for a co-branded credit card. According to the report, in 2019, allegations were made that the bank offered lower credit limits to women applicants and unfairly denied women accounts. NYDFS launched a fair lending investigation into the allegations and reviewed underwriting data for nearly 400,000 New Yorker residents, but ultimately found no evidence of unlawful disparate treatment or disparate impact. Among other things, the report noted that the bank “had a fair lending program in place for ensuring its lending policy—and underlying statistical model—did not consider prohibited characteristics of applicants and would not produce disparate impacts.” The bank also identified the factors it used when making the credit decisions, including credit scores, indebtedness, income, credit utilization, missed payments, and other credit history elements, all of which, NYDFS stated, appeared to be consistent with its credit policy.
On January 26, President Biden issued an Executive Order (E.O.) directing the secretary of HUD to examine the effects of the September 2020 final rule amending the agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s 2013 disparate impact standard (2013 Rule). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the final rule is intended to align its 2013 Rule with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. and among other things, includes a modification of the three-step burden-shifting framework in its 2013 Rule, several new elements that plaintiffs must show to establish that a policy or practice has a “discriminatory effect,” and specific defenses that defendants can assert to refute disparate impact claims. The E.O. emphasizes HUD’s “statutory duty to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act,” and requires the HUD secretary to take any necessary steps, “to implement the Fair Housing Act’s requirements that HUD administer its programs in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing and HUD’s overall duty to administer the Act (42 U.S.C. 3608(a)) including by preventing practices with an unjustified discriminatory effect.”
Recently, FTC staff submitted a comment letter in response to the CFPB’s request for information (RFI) seeking input on ways to provide additional clarity under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and implementing Regulation B. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB issued the RFI last July requesting comments on ways to create a regulatory environment that expands credit access and ensures consumers and communities are protected from discrimination with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction. Included in the RFI was a request for input on whether “the Bureau should provide additional clarity regarding its approach to disparate impact analysis under ECOA and/or Regulation B.” Citing to legislative history, the FTC noted that Regulation B explicitly incorporates disparate impact, and stressed that “[a]rticulating a single approach to disparate impact analysis that covers diverse sets of present and future facts and circumstances of discrimination could be difficult and could risk being both over and under inclusive.” The FTC suggested that if the Bureau chooses to provide additional detail regarding its approach to disparate impact analysis, a disclaimer should be included that such information is not intended to “bless” any violations of ECOA and Regulation B, but is rather “intended to provide examples of how the agency might approach a fair lending matter.”
In response to the Bureau’s request for information about ways it might support efforts to meet the credit needs of small businesses, the FTC highlighted recent enforcement actions involving small businesses, including actions involving deceptively advertised financial products and unfair billing and collection practices, particularly with respect to merchant cash advances. The FTC also urged the Bureau to remind entities offering credit to small businesses that ECOA and Regulation B apply and that entities cannot avoid application of these statutes based solely on how they characterize a transaction or the benefits they claim to provide. The FTC further stressed that collecting small business lending demographic data could aid in enforcement efforts, as would encouraging small businesses to report misconduct and refer complaints to the FTC and the states. In addition, the FTC highlighted the importance of educating small businesses about different products and terms, as well as potential law violations, which could assist small businesses in comparing products resulting in less expensive financing options.
On October 25, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order granting a preliminary injunction and stay of effective date of HUD’s disparate impact regulation under the Fair Housing Act (Final Rule). As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in September, HUD issued the Final Rule, which is intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013 (2013 Rule), with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. Among other things, the Final Rule includes a modification of the three-step burden-shifting framework in its 2013 Rule, several new elements that plaintiffs must show to establish that a policy or practice has a “discriminatory effect,” and specific defenses that defendants can assert to refute disparate impact claims.
According to the order, two fair housing organizations (collectively, “plaintiffs”) filed the action against HUD seeking to vacate the Final Rule under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and subsequently filed for a preliminary injunction and stay, arguing, among other things, that the changes to the 2013 Rule are “arbitrary and capricious.” The court noted that the Final Rule “constitutes a significant overhaul to HUD’s interpretation of disparate impact standards,” and that the alterations to the 2013 Rule “appear inadequately justified.” The court further explained that the Final Rule’s “massive changes pose a real and substantial threat of imminent harm” to the plaintiffs by increasing “the burdens, costs, and effectiveness of disparate impact liability.” Lastly, the court noted that HUD did not identify any “particularized” harm to the government or public should the injunction be granted. Thus, the court granted the preliminary injunction and stayed the implementation date until further order.
On September 18, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss claims that the bank and its subsidiaries’ (collectively, “defendants”) mortgage originating and servicing practices and policies had a disparate impact on, and resulted in disparate treatment of, minority borrowers, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The plaintiffs, three Georgia counties, filed a second amended complaint raising two disparate impact claims and one disparate treatment claim under the FHA, claiming the defendants’ lending and servicing practices—which included allegedly targeting minority borrowers for higher cost loan products, approving unqualified minority borrowers for loans they could not afford, and providing less favorable terms for loan modifications—were “designed to reduce the overall equity minority borrowers located within their counties had in their homes.” The practices, among other things, allegedly caused African-American and Latino borrowers to receive disproportionately higher cost mortgage loans than similarly situated white, non-Latino borrowers, creating an increase in defaults and foreclosures, and causing the plaintiffs to incur alleged damages, including out-of-pocket foreclosure-related costs and increased municipal expenses, and loss of property tax revenues due to decreased home values.
The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting, among other things, that the plaintiffs failed to properly allege their disparate impact claims under Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a previous Buckley Special Alert). The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs’ municipal “economic injuries were not proximately cause by the [d]efendants’ discriminatory policies under [City of Miami Garden v. Wells Fargo & Co.]” (covered by InfoBytes here), and that the plaintiffs failed to allege specific allegations within the FHA’s two-year statute of limitations.
The court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. With respect to the disparate impact claims, the court applied Inclusive Communities and held that the plaintiffs identified several specific policies that caused the alleged disparate impact. The court also rejected the statute of limitations arguments and held that the plaintiffs “‘can prove a set of facts’ showing a timely violation of the FHA.” The court dismissed certain of the counties’ injury claims—the plaintiffs’ attempts to recover franchise tax and municipal expenses (police, fire, and sanitation services related to vacant or foreclosed-upon properties)—ruling that plaintiffs failed to establish proximate cause and “explain how their municipal services injuries ‘are anything more than merely foreseeable consequences’ of [the d]efendants’ discriminatory acts.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this month issued a final disparate impact regulation under the Fair Housing Act (Final Rule). HUD’s new Final Rule is intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013 (2013 Rule), with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (Inclusive Communities). While the new Final Rule is a notable development, the relatively recent Supreme Court decision makes it unclear to what extent courts and federal agencies will look to the rule for guidance.
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