In 1968, the Fair Housing Act made it the law of the land that owners of property could not refuse to sell or rent it on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. In 1988 the list was expanded to include family status and disabilities.
Absent from this list of criteria was criminal history. Legislators understood it to be within their mandate to stop property owners from simply selling or renting as they saw fit, but nevertheless stopped short of forcing them to share their premises (in the case of rentals) with known criminals.
That reasonable limit on government interference, however, belonged to a bygone era, in which individuals were assumed to possess adult human agency, and therefore to be responsible, as individuals, for their actions. But, to quote Daniel Dennett on the subject of free will, “if you make yourself small enough, you can externalize everything” — and so we now will do with criminality. In real-estate transactions, applicants are now to be considered, not as the authors of their own life-histories, but merely as different flavors of otherwise identical atoms.
How so, you ask? Well, you see, it appears that one flavor of those atoms somehow ends up convicted of crimes a lot more often than the other flavors do. But because all human atoms are — by incontrovertible axiom and fiat — otherwise identical (and very, very small!), there can be no intrinsic attribute, no “hidden variable” that could possibly account for this. So the only remaining explanation is that there is something entirely external, something vastly larger than any human particle, that irresistibly deflects certain flavors of atoms into our courts and prisons.
This means, in turn, that any evaluation we might make based on criminal records is, by the same incontrovertible axiom and fiat, invalid. (Anyway, another word for what we call “evaluation” is “discrimination”. Need we say more?)
For your enlightenment, then, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued these guidelines. They are based on no legislation, but rather on the sharply ascendant and marvelously flexible concept of “disparate impact“. What’s interesting, and perhaps novel, about this example is that what’s “disparate” here, and thereby causing the “impact”, is the actions of the affected group itself.