New opening to battle housing bias

The Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote on June 25 that housing discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to be illegal. This means that plaintiffs who believe that either government or private housing policies have discriminated against them in obtaining housing no longer have to prove that the discrimination was intentional. They still have to prove that the policies themselves caused the bias and that the result was ­discriminatory.

While this is an extremely limited decision with respect to eliminating bias in housing and it certainly does nothing to address the need poor people have to find decent housing, the opposite decision would have reinforced the power that rental and real estate agencies have to impose discrimination. There is an existing Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, whose ostensible aim was to establish ground rules for more integrated housing. The court decision upheld the intent of this law.

Laws affecting housing are needed to eliminate the ability of landlords and real estate monopolies to deny housing to people based on racism, xenophobia or other forms of bias. A general solution to the housing crisis — and it is a crisis for all people without substantial incomes — requires unlimited availability of inexpensive housing, accessibility to good public schools in all neighborhoods and abundant jobs available within reasonable commuting distance.

The decision is not going to solve this general problem. Its progressive content is that it gives a tool to those who have been denied housing in cases where bias is disguised as a neutral rule, or where policies have a discriminatory impact but it is almost impossible to find proof that discrimination by a landlord, rental agency or housing authority was deliberate or intentional.

The ruling strengthens the ability of renters and homeowners to seek redress for discriminatory practices on the part of landlords, owners or housing ­monopolies.