While many Granite State buyers and renters are being pushed out of the market, some face a more stealthy barrier to housing: discrimination.
In March, the New Hampshire Senate voted unanimously to revise the Fair Housing Act through SB 126. The act is designed to raise federal funding for an investigation into housing discrimination. However, SB 126 could face resistance in the state House of Representatives, where some lawmakers are suspicious of federal government relations.
A proposal to revise housing law
SB 126 is a combination of three different proposals on the subject of living. First, the bill revises the circumstances under which a tenant can stop an eviction by paying overdue rents. Second, the invoice enables rent support prior to an eviction notice. Finally, the bill rewrites the New Hampshire Fair Housing Law.
The New Hampshire Fair Housing Law generally prohibits discrimination in rental and property transactions. For example, it is illegal under the Fair Housing Act to say “only white women” on a rental advertisement. The law also prohibits more subtle forms of discrimination, such as letting a landlord showing tenants with children only a building and single adults showing a building.
New Hampshire last revised its fair housing law in 2018 to ban discrimination based on gender identity. The law also prohibits discrimination based on age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, marital status, marital status, disability, or national origin.
SB 126 does not change the content of the State Fair Housing Act, but adds a new language. For example, the bill specifically prohibits various activities that encourage “blockbusting”: Getting homeowners to sell cheaply based on claims that an undesirable minority is moving into the neighborhood.
SB 126 still contains many exceptions to the law on fair living. For example, the Fair Housing Act does not apply to people renting out a room in their primary residence. There are also exceptions to allow housing specifically for the elderly or for people of a certain religion.
Arguments for a national game
The New Hampshire Human Rights Commission requested the language in SB 126 to roughly conform to state and federal fair living laws. If the state law is “essentially equivalent” to the federal law on fair housing, the human rights commission can be financed from the program for fair housing. In other words, the Human Rights Commission could get federal funding for the work it is already doing investigating housing discrimination.
About half of the states – including every other state in New England – participate in the federal fair housing assistance program.
The New Hampshire Human Rights Commission already has a similar work-sharing arrangement with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC reports cases of employment discrimination to the Human Rights Commission.
Arguments against changes in housing law
No one testified against SB 126 before the Senate Commerce Committee, but previous attempts to update the state’s Fair Housing Act met with opposition.
For example, the Senate killed HB 1143 in 2014 when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expressed concern about whether some of the language would comply with federal law.
The then representative of the state, Joseph Hagan, wrote: “This bill is an additional transfer of sovereignty to the federal government in exchange for a non-guaranteed transfer of federal funds.”
The Extent of Housing Discrimination in New Hampshire
For the past decade, the Human Rights Commission has filed fewer than a dozen housing discrimination charges each year. Instead, many more cases of housing discrimination are filed each year at the federal level through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in New Hampshire – up to 78 in 2005. In a tax bill for SB 126, the State Human Rights Commission said that a bill could lead to this that more housing discrimination charges are being brought at the state level. That would mean more work and costs for the Commission, along with the possibility of federal reimbursement.
What’s next for SB 126?
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