A federal judge in Boston on Sunday blocked a Trump administration order that critics say would make it harder to sue landlords and mortgage lenders over housing discrimination.
US District Court Judge Mark Mastroianni sided with several Massachusetts-based housing groups that are suing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to stop changes to the Fair Housing Act that would significantly raise the legal bar for discrimination lawsuits. Those changes, proposed earlier this year, were to take effect Monday. Over the weekend, Mastroianni issued a temporary nationwide injunction while the case is being heard.
His ruling suggests the plaintiffs — Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, and Housing Works — are likely to win their case to overturn the new rules, and their supporters hailed the decision Monday.
"We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is cocounsel in the case. “As we face both a global pandemic and an ever-worsening housing crisis, it is imperative that our most vulnerable community members know there are robust legal protections to combat barriers to housing opportunity.”
For decades, the 1968 Fair Housing Act has been interpreted to allow lawsuits claiming discrimination in housing even if that discrimination was not intentional but still effectively makes it harder for people of color and other groups to access housing — the so-called “disparate impact” rule. In the wake of a 2015 US Supreme Court decision upholding but clarifying that rule, the Trump administration moved to change the definition of disparate impact, saying that “practical business, profit, and policy considerations” could outweigh claims of discrimination.
That rule was finalized in September, and lawsuits in various federal courts around the country immediately followed from housing advocates who said the new rule essentially guts protections in the Fair Housing Act.
In his ruling, Mastroianni said the new rules went well beyond what the Supreme Court allowed in its 2015 decision. His stay will put them on hold for now, with the case now likely to stretch out for months, and perhaps be appealed to higher courts.