By Karen Rabinovici, UConn Law ’12
It seems more outdated than hair scrunchies, something we witnessed years ago: discrimination against pregnant women seeking mortgage loans. Apparently it’s still going on and worse than ever which is why the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is investigating numerous cases of alleged pregnancy discrimination in lending. The New York Times recently wrote about it: Seeking a Mortgage, Don’t Get Pregnant.
Spurred by the financial crisis, lenders have created more stringent guidelines for granting loans to borrowers looking to buy homes, and have zoned in on pregnant women, essentially deeming them to be liabilities. Lenders are equivocating maternity leave with unemployment, which results in automatic disqualification or reduced buying power for a loan. Although some women on maternity leave can be entitled to temporary disability insurance, this disability insurance may not be used as qualifying income because it is allocated for a period of time less than three years. Women who are on maternity for only a few weeks are also affected, so the range of women denied loans is vast.
In the past, maternity leave was considered a break from work and was not taken into account when considering whether or not to grant a loan. In this financial climate, however, maternity leave has come to be viewed differently – as complete unemployment. So, lenders will not approve a loan until the mother is officially back at work. This subjects women to more red tape: providing documents from their employers specifying the length of their maternity leave and the date of their return to work, as well as letters from their doctors, and other information deemed relevant.
These new guidelines have resulted in too many claims of discrimination from pregnant women to ignore, and thus has resulted in the HUD investigation. If HUD concludes that discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is indeed taking place, this could be a violation of the Fair Housing Act, one purpose of which is to protect families.
Some results of all this are that families are forced to wait until the mother returns to work (possibly rushing maternity leave), families are altogether giving up on buying homes, or families are purchasing homes that they can afford on one salary.
Families are feeling punished for having babies, and the irony that most families are buying new homes in the first place because they are expecting children does not fail to come through.
While tougher standards for approving loans have become an obvious step to take by lenders, these types of resulting consequences walk a dangerous line between what needs to be done, and unfair treatment towards one group of people. In either case, the allegations of discrimination against pregnant women reek of the sexism that was rampant in the professional world decades ago.
What do you think? Are pregnant women being treated unfairly, or are they indeed a liability to lenders because of the income gap resulting from their maternity leave?
Pregnant Women Losing Out On Home Loans, Change.org
Pregnant Women Denied Loans? Realtor.com