By Alexia Smokler, Presidential Management Fellow with HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
Buying a home and starting (or growing) a family should be among the most joyful moments of our lives. We often describe these experiences as fundamental parts of the American Dream. However, especially in the wake of the 2008 mortgage meltdown, illegal discrimination has caused too many families to be denied the opportunity to buy a home after welcoming a new child.
In 2010, a New York Times article about Dr. Elizabeth Budde, a Seattle-area oncologist, caught the attention of officials at HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), the agency charged with enforcing the federal Fair Housing Act. Dr. Budde had been approved for a mortgage, but the lender reportedly revoked its loan approval after learning that she was on maternity leave. Even though Dr. Budde was receiving full pay and benefits while she cared for her newborn, the lender said it could not consider her income because she wasn’t working.
HUD saw the case as a potential violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in lending based on gender or familial status, and launched an investigation. Dr. Budde eventually persuaded the lender to reinstate her mortgage, and HUD entered into a settlement agreement with the lender, who agreed to provide $15,000 in compensation to Dr. Budde and put another $750,000 into a fund to reimburse families who had faced similar discrimination.
Discrimination against women in housing because they are pregnant or childcare givers is against the law. While lenders have the right to verify income and determine creditworthiness, they may not single out women on maternity leave for special guarantees, ignore their resources, or assume they will not return to work. Considering that in 2012 more than 70 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 were participants in the labor force, making lending decisions based on such assumptions is not only illegal, it is unreasonable, and could result in excluding huge numbers of American families from the mortgage market.
Indeed, when FHEO partnered with MomsRising to publicize the case, inform women of their rights, and ask mothers to share their stories of discrimination in the housing and lending market, there was a huge response. HUD began aggressively investigating claims of maternity leave discrimination in lending, and since the settlement resolving Dr. Budde’s case in 2011, HUD has entered into at least twelve more settlement agreements with lenders across the country, including with Bank of America and PNC Bank. HUD continues to investigate claims of discrimination against mothers and families in lending.
If you think you or someone you know has been discriminated against in housing or lending because of pregnancy, maternity leave, or familial status, contact HUD at (800) 669-9777 (voice), or 800-927-9275 (TTY) or file a complaint online.
Alexia Smokler is a Presidential Management Fellow with HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. She spent 18 weeks working at the Equal Rights Center for her developmental assignment.