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Good news! The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced this afternoon at a news conference that they reached a settlement agreement with a mortgage company that denied a new mom a home loan simply because she was on maternity leave.  Emma Cooper-Serber, LMSW / MPH, a NYC MomsRising member and mother of a three year old daughter, was invited to speak at the news conference, saying: “No need is more basic than the need to shelter our families, and home loan discrimination against mothers is illegal and unacceptable. HUD vowed last year to take this issue seriously and we applaud them for making good on their work and vigorously enforcing fair housing laws.”

After Emma spoke, the media representatives present at the news conference burst out in applause. Emma told me afterwards that she couldn’t say enough how good it felt to be able to represent all of the other MomsRising members across the country.

HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, John Trasviña, says that Women who choose to become mothers shouldn’t have to face housing or lending discrimination while seeking to purchase a home, because of their maternity status. HUD is pleased to have organizations like MomsRising and others as our partners to ensure that the fair housing rights of women and families seeking housing are not violated.”

Last July the New York Times ran a story[1] about Elizabeth Budde, a Washington state doctor who had been approved for a home loan but then had her loan revoked after a loan officer learned she was on maternity leave with her newborn baby. But in fact, the U.S. Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on sex, familial status or disability.  The settlement announced today by HUD compensates Budde and up to potentially 100 other women who experienced discrimination from Cornerstone Mortgage Company. The company will be establishing a $750,000 settlement fund.

Since the issue first came to light, MomsRising has been working to raise awareness about women’s and mother’s housing rights and to help identify what housing discrimination looks like. MomsRising collected more than 200 stories from women who have experienced housing discrimination, through e-outreaches to its members around the country. Among them were:

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 was told that in the eyes of the lender, I was unemployed. -- Olivia, California

I was pre-approved for a loan prior to house hunting. The night before I closed on my home the underwriter determined that I was a risk because I was a single mother with two children and two jobs… There was an attorney involved in one of the homes up the chain and he contacted the underwriter to inform her that he would take my discrimination case pro-bono and she backed down. I got my home, it just took a few extra days. That was 18 years ago. I'm still working 2 jobs. My children are in college and I've never missed a mortgage payment. -- Felicia, Kansas

I was told at least six times that I can remember that the landlord in question would not rent to me with a child, because of noise, "safety" issues, etc. I had landlords rescind housing offers once they realized I had a child, and I had people who initially appeared very enthusiastic about showing me their rental unit, refuse to show it to me once  they found out I had one, 3 year old child.  It was an extremely demoralizing experience, and very disillusioning. -- Kerry, California

Housing discrimination against mothers and families in any form, whether in trying to buy a house or rent one, is illegal and unacceptable.  Today, thanks HUD’s commitment and persistence, we are one step closer to ending discrimination against mothers whether it be in housing, wages, pay, promotions, education or in other aspects of our lives.

[1] New York Times, "Need a Mortgage? Don't Get Pregnant," Tara Siegel Bernard, July 19, 2010

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