Economy, Regs, & Taxes

Housing Discrimination, or Just Obama's Economy?

SCOTUS says it's no longer necessary to prove discrimination, only to claim intent.

Lewis Morris · Jun. 26, 2015

The Supreme Court’s decision this week on housing discrimination was another example of the High Court’s inability to view the law on its own merits. (Where have we heard that before…) By the time SCOTUS took on Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project this term, it had already rejected two similar cases attempting to chisel down the Fair Housing Act’s statute regarding the definition of the disparate impact of discrimination in housing practices.

In this case, ultimately decided 5-4 along ideological lines with Justice Anthony Kennedy being the swing-the-wrong-way vote, the Supremes determined that discrimination claims against lending, zoning, sales and rental decisions could be viewed not only on their direct impact but also on their “disparate” impact. In other words, if a group should decide that a rejection of a mortgage or other finance decision based on housing or renting is discriminatory, they no longer need to prove discrimination on the merits, they only need to claim an “intent” to discriminate. In today’s racially charged society, this bar will be quite low indeed.

The Obama administration called the decision a victory, which says a lot. Obama spokesman Josh Earnest declared the ruling will help “victims of more subtle forms of discrimination, such as predatory lending, exclusionary zoning, and development policies that limit affordable housing.”

This ruling will allow the Obama administration to once again claim to have improved housing for Americans, particularly minorities. But that is simply not true.

Housing starts and sales have suffered greatly since the 2008 financial crisis, which was itself driven by government interference in the housing market for racial reasons. And despite claims to the contrary, the Obama Recovery hasn’t exactly been stellar. Home ownership stands at 64.5%, representing a drop that basically erases all the gains made in the last two decades. Renting is way up, which is good for some sectors of the housing economy, but the trouble there is just who comprises the large pool of renters.

Households in the 45-64-year-old age category account for twice the share of renter growth compared to households under 35. This is not good. Those under 35, normally single people or newly married couples, traditionally are the people who rent. But the collapse of the housing market in the last recession put a lot of older families under water and generated a great deal of foreclosures. Of course, a large number of those foreclosures were on families who really had no business buying homes, but they were inspired by relaxed lending practices forced by a federal government that insisted more people should be homeowners, even if they couldn’t pay for them.

The current decade is the strongest ever for creating renters, and homeowners and potential homeowners are being squeezed. Studies of the current housing market indicate that a larger portion of homes valued under $200,000 are underwater than those valued above $200,000. Clearly, the government’s attempts to make housing more affordable are not working. A number of lower income families who have been tricked into believing the promise of homeownership by a government eager to prove the value of its programs are now seeking even more assistance in order to keep their homes. But at least the Supreme Court has made it easier to shout “racist.”

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