FARGO — The city's Human Relations Commission has submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, asking the agency to reject a rule change that could loosen a decades-old regulation limiting discriminatory practices.
In August, the department, better known as HUD, proposed revising the “disparate impact” rule, a standard that was established with the 1968 Fair Housing Act and helps victims of discrimination challenge policies that appear neutral at face value but disproportionately affect one group, according to the Grand Forks-based High Plains Fair Housing Center.
The revised rule would put a “drastically higher burden to prove a disparate impact claim,” the Fargo Human Relations Commission said in a letter to HUD dated Monday, Oct. 14.
“In Fargo, victims of discrimination will be victimized twice,” the letter read. “First by facing discrimination while trying to secure housing, and next if they file a complaint they will have a higher burden of proof — essentially making it impossible to succeed.”
The High Plains Fair Housing Center — which helps North Dakotans fight housing discrimination for protected groups such as the elderly, people with disabilities, families with children, single parents and people of color — asked the commission during a September meeting to write to HUD. The proposed rule change will remain open for public comment until Friday, Oct. 18.
The commission’s letter also noted that in Fargo there are “fewer homeownership opportunities for New Americans and Native Americans, (and) the disparate impact standard can address these disparities.”
The High Plains Fair Housing Center has a phone line that accepts calls from people who have faced discrimination from landlords or bankers offering loans. The center’s executive director, Michelle Rydz, said in her September presentation to the commission that Native Americans, among others, face high rates of discrimination in North Dakota.
The center hires what are known as “secret shoppers” to perform tests at locations where someone has complained about discriminatory practices. The results of those tests are used to help a victim negotiate for better living conditions or for housing. The results can also be used for legal purposes.
In the September Human Relations Commission meeting, Rydz said the center is seeking Native American secret shoppers to help its Indigenous clients.
Courtney Souvannasacd, of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, lives in Grand Forks and serves on the High Plains Fair Housing Board. When it comes to discrimination against Native Americans, she said, “I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve been a part of it. We know these issues of discrimination are part of our community.”
In a letter to the editor published in The Forum, Rydz wrote: “We owe it to our neighbors and our communities across the state to preserve disparate impact standards.”