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"My husband and I were denied a home loan last year due to my being on maternity leave. It was a tremendously frustrating experience, as I was employed and on a federally protected leave; though I was told that in the eyes of the lender, I was unemployed."
-- Olivia, California

There's hardly a need more basic than shelter for our families. And when trying to rent or buy a home, everyone should get a fair shake. But many credit-worthy pregnant women and mothers are being denied home loans or rentals solely because they are on maternity leave or have children.

Redlining -- the practice where financial institutions make it extremely difficult or impossible for residents of poor inner-city neighborhoods, often racially determined neighborhoods, to gain approval for a mortgage or other financial services -- is illegal.

Housing discriminating against mothers is just as illegal. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for lenders and landlords to deny a woman a loan or refuse to rent to her because she has or plans to have children. But it still happens, all too often.

"I can't even count the number of times I was hung up on [when trying to rent an apartment] as soon as I mentioned we had a toddler."
-- Christina, New York

Unfortunately, many women and families in search of a home do not know their rights. And many lenders and landlords who figuratively -- or even literally "hold the keys" to a family's new home -- are either ignorant of the law or worse, willfully disobeying it.

So let's spell it out for the banks, mortgage companies, landlords, and property managers right here:

It's illegal for a mortgage company or other home lender to deny an otherwise credit-worthy woman a home loan, to delay the loan, or to require a co-signer for the following reasons:>

  • She is pregnant or planning to become pregnant
  • She is a single mom
  • She is on maternity leave or are on short-term disability leave
  • Any member of her family is a person of color

It's illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to a mother for the following reasons:

  • She is pregnant or planning to become pregnant
  • She is a single mom
  • She has a baby, child or teenagers (or she has "too many children")
  • She has a disabled or special-needs child
  • Any member of her family is a person of color

This is not only a moral issue. It's the law. Just as it's the law that mothers should not be discriminated in hiring, wages, and promotions.

Yet housing discrimination against mothers persists, and it takes many forms. For example, the women quoted below, and hundreds of others, wrote to MomsRising.org, the million-member grassroots organization for moms and everyone who has a mom, as part of an effort to end housing discrimination against mothers:

"[The rental company said to me, ] 'Since you are a single mother, we don't think you can afford this house. Maybe you should look at something smaller.' "
-- Dana, Oregon

"To qualify for our mortgage, [our bank] told us we had to write a 'motivational letter' explaining why we wanted the house, and discussing, among other things, our family planning....I felt genuinely humiliated and demeaned to have to discuss, with a total stranger, whether my husband and I were going to have more children or not."
-- Linda, Pennsylvania

"[The home loan officer] told me that no matter what she would not give me the loan because my children were disabled."
-- Theresa, Georgia

"The rental market in the Boston area is especially difficult because most of the housing stock has not been de-leaded, and families with children under five can only live in certified de-leaded housing. [Legally], an owner is supposed to de-lead the house for the family. In reality, they simply refuse to rent to young families."
-- Crystal, Massachusetts

In response to stories like these, and in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), MomsRising recently developed a web page that offers information on how to identify housing discrimination against mothers, including information about where women can seek assistance if they feel they have been treated unfairly.

A wide range of organizations across the country are also advocating for an end to housing discrimination against mothers and families, including the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and the ACLU.

And change is coming. Earlier this month, HUD announced a ground-breaking settlement agreement in a housing discrimination case with Cornerstone Mortgage Company and announced that it is pursuing a case against the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation of Milwaukee. In both cases, the lenders illegally discriminated against women because they were on maternity leave. And thanks to an increasing number of mothers who are stepping forward to file complaints, HUD has launched another dozen investigations.

The practice of redlining on the basis of race or ethnicity only began to be seriously addressed when the pervasiveness of this insidious form of discrimination was made public. Housing discrimination against mothers has been going on just as long, and now is the time to daylight the extent of this illegal discrimination as well.

Families need homes. It's that simple. We cannot, as a society, allow discrimination against the mothers (and the fathers and guardians) who seek to shelter them.

If you have been discriminated against in searching for housing, you can call the HUD hot line number: 1-800-669-9777, or visit HUD's website.

Cross posted from the Huffington Post column of MomsRising.org and CustomFitWorkplace.org, which presents innovative ideas to strengthen 21st Century American families through public policy, business practice, and cultural change.


 


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