HUD, Facebook, and Fair Housing Complaints

August 30, 2018

On August 13, 2018, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) filed a Fair Housing complaint against Facebook claiming that the popular social media site used discriminatory tactics to advertise housing opportunities to its users.  The Fair Housing Act (42 USC §3604) makes illegal any discrimination in the sale or rental of housing based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.

The HUD complaint alleges that Facebook used its enormous store of user data to allow advertisers of housing to limits their ads to specific persons.  For instance, in the complaint, HUD says that Facebook enables advertisers to discriminate based on national origin by not showing ads to users whom Facebook categorized as interested in “Latin America,” Southeast Asia,” “China,” “Honduras,” or “Somalia.”  Further, the complaint says that Facebook allows advertisers to discriminate based on race and color by drawing lines around certain zip codes and not showing ads in those locations – a practice that echoes old housing discrimination through redlining.

This is an unusual case where HUD filed the complaint on its own initiative.  In most cases, an individual or a group files a Fair Housing Act violation complaint with HUD.  Then, HUD can investigate the facts surrounding the complaint and decide whether it charges the party accused of wrongdoing.

HUD is responsible for enforcing violations of the Fair Housing Act and relies on its partners to assist in this effort. NID Housing, as a HUD-approved National Housing Counseling Intermediary, is one of HUD’s primary partners in documenting Fair Housing violations and submitting complaints to the agency.  Our counselors are regularly trained and have extensive experience talking with clients about possible discrimination in housing – all at no cost to the client.

If you feel that you have been refused housing or prevented from a housing opportunity because of race, national origin, color, religion, sex, family status, or other protected categories contact a local NID Housing branch or call our National Office at: 510.268.9792.  A certified housing counselor will arrange an appointment that suits your needs.  Our counselors offer in-person housing counseling and education and can provide such counseling and education by phone or video conferencing as well.  Many of our branches host regular counseling events at local municipal buildings or churches too, so be sure to ask about any upcoming events.

NID Housing is here to listen with attention and purpose if you feel that you have been discriminated against.  HUD’s ability to enforce this law, and make equal access to housing for all, depends upon individuals coming forward and speaking with a trusted advisor.  NID Housing is that trusted advisor, and we invite you to contact us if you feel you have been a victim of discrimination.