April is Fair Housing Month – a time to reflect on the passing of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Even though the policy was signed forty-six years ago, it is still very relevant today. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a landmark policy that demonstrated the importance of furthering open and inclusive communities. Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Act was enacted in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King tirelessly advocated for an end to housing discrimination and a law that would support fair and open housing. Everyday housing advocates honor his life’s work by furthering his dream of equal rights and social justice. Though we have progressed as a nation, there is work to be done to truly achieve Dr. King’s dream.
Through the work of community leaders, the housing sector is becoming more inclusive. The original act prohibited housing discrimination against residents on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. In a 1989 amendment, the protected classes of persons with disabilities and families with children were added. Over the years, state and local jurisdictions have adopted other protected classes to further the mission of fair housing and enable a more equal housing market.
Unfortunately, housing discrimination still occurs today. While discrimination is not as blatant and ubiquitous as it was prior to the Fair Housing Act – think redlining and blockbusting – it continues to persist. Some realtors show houses in specific neighborhoods based on their clients’ race. Some banks charge higher interest rates on loans for minorities. Advertisements for rental units sometimes encourage certain groups of people to apply or exclude other groups. The Fair Housing Act is still needed to combat housing discrimination.
Segregation has permeated the nation’s cities for many years, and ending a deep and complex problem takes time. The Fair Housing Act includes a clause that affirmatively furthers fair housing, which aims to tackle historic segregation patterns. Affirmatively furthering fair housing provides better access to opportunities by promoting diverse and inclusive communities. It intends to reduce discrimination through open housing options for people of color as well as persons with disabilities.
To adhere to the clause to affirmatively further fair housing, communities that receive government funding must create a fair housing action plan to promote equal and diverse housing opportunities for residents. This section of the Fair Housing Act is an essential part of the mission of fair housing, but has lacked clear guidelines and little enforcement. In 2013, an updated rule aims to help municipalities affirmatively further fair housing through the use of assessment tools and public data. The new and improved clause provides a proactive approach to developing inclusive communities. This updated rule demonstrates that the nation still needs accountability and assistance in order to provide fair and open housing.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a landmark policy that demonstrated the importance of furthering open and inclusive communities. This April, there is much to celebrate from the past forty-six years, but there is also more work to be done. Fair Housing Month reminds us of both of these things as we continue in the fair housing movement.
By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator
Fair and open housing for all people is essential for America to continue being the land of opportunity. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 gave the federal government the authority to hold communities accountable to end discriminatory practices and, along with the 14th amendment, to end state-action discrimination. Although this legislation made great inroads in fair housing, the 1968 act did not include all groups in the community, including those that are disabled and/or those with differences of familial status.
So, in 1989 the federal government wrote up legislation on behalf of these individuals and amended the Fair Housing Act to include those community members. Granting these newly protected classes equal access to housing benefits the entire community. People with disabilities contribute to our communities and deserve the same dignity and respect that other residents have. They have the innate right to be integrated into all neighborhoods. These ideals also apply to families with children and single-parent households. Children can greatly enhance the vibrancy and character of a community and, due to their vulnerability, especially need decent housing in quality neighborhoods.
The act could not have been amended any time sooner. Twenty five years ago, we were living in a society that was progressively taking a more inclusionary stance with community members who fall under the amended category. One wonders about the big picture question as to what caused the movement towards inclusion. Was it the legislation that moved us in that direction? Or was it the collective impact of fair housing organizations on our civic leaders? Both efforts were necessary to allow these two groups to become integrated within the community.
When we take a moment to focus on our individual lives, we realize that we have all been impacted by these two groups in one way or another. Indeed, we must continue to promote the open and equal opportunity for these groups to join our community. It is 2014 and we have reached a very important point in fair housing history and community involvement to continue to foster the inclusion of households with children and people with disabilities.
We all come from various backgrounds and are going to be hard-pressed to find a neighborhood composed of only one demography. So in a step to accept the wonderful diversity that our society offers, we should be inclusive of people with disabilities and differing familial status in our community. We have the legislation as members of our society, take a personal stance to be more neighborly to all members of our community.
By Jose O’Campo, Research Assistant at Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance
Photo by Kim Brookes
Many people believe that the United States has entered a post-racial society. After all, immigration and multi-racial families have created a diverse country, and we have a black President. Unfortunately, recent stories suggest that racial discrimination and inequality is continuing to persist in the housing sector (as well as other areas).
In April 2012, a discrimination complaint against U.S. Bank was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the National Fair Housing Alliance and other organizations. The National Fair Housing Alliance is a consortium of fair housing agencies and individuals throughout the United States. The National Fair Housing Alliance’s mission is to eliminate discrimination and promote equal opportunity in housing through education, advocacy, enforcement, and public policy initiatives.
The complaint alleges that foreclosed homes that have been taken over by U.S. Bank are not taken care of in minority communities as well as the homes U.S. Bank has absorbed in white communities. Properties in minority neighborhoods are not well-maintained, which makes the surrounding look undesirable and create health hazards for neighbors. There has also been poor marketing for the properties owned by the bank, which keeps the homes sitting vacant. The vacant, unkempt properties impact the entire neighborhood they reside in. Home seekers are less likely to purchase a home on a street that seems undesirable, and current residents have difficulty selling their home if they decide to move. The complaint argues that the bank’s habit of ignoring their properties in minority communities is discriminatory and violates the federal Fair Housing Act. New data allows communities to continue to be added to the original complaint (the most recent addition occurred in November 2013). There are currently 20 total cities with communities that are included in the complaint.
A discrimination complaint was also filed against Bailey Properties, an apartment property management company that has allegedly been discriminating against Latinos in the southern United States. Last month, the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission filed the complaint with HUD because the management company has been refusing to rent their properties to Latinos. The complaint also claims the company has discriminated in the conditions or terms of rental for Latinos that have been able to rent their properties.
In December 2012, a discrimination complaint was filed with HUD against Allstate Insurance. The National Fair Housing Alliance reported that Allstate has been utilizing redlining practices to discriminate against African American communities in Wilmington, Delaware. The company has refused to provide home insurance plans for houses with flat roofs. African Americans are more likely to live in areas of town that have a concentration of houses with flat roofs. The policy set by Allstate has a disparate impact that results in discriminatory effects that disproportionately harm African Americans in Wilmington.
A recent national study conducted by HUD reported that racial minorities continue to be discriminated against in the housing sector. The study used paired testers to assess the experiences of different races navigating the housing sector in 2012. The report revealed that minorities are told about and shown fewer houses and apartments than white home seekers. Further, minorities who can pass as white either over the phone or in person experience less discrimination than minorities who cannot pass. The impact of these different experiences along racial lines is that minorities are constrained in their housing choices, which can influence the costs of available housing choices.
The cases described above indicate that racial discrimination in housing is still prevalent. Discrimination may have decreased in the last 40 years but it is still evident and has merely shifted into a different form. Subtle inequality has replaced direct discrimination – an African American will not likely be refused to see any available homes or apartments as in the past, but the African American won’t be able to see as many properties as a white person. This change in discrimination is more difficult to notice because minorities aren’t being completely denied housing opportunities and so without a deeper investigation it appears as if their experiences are equal to whites.
Monitoring the participation of different races and ethnicities in the housing sector is necessary to analyze the changes in discrimination each year. Paired testing is the method utilized by researchers to measure discrimination in the housing sector. Paired testing matches a white and non-white individual who have equal qualifications to buy or rent a home. The pair inquires about the same available listings and records the treatment they received from each property manager. Paired testing controls for all variables except the person’s race or ethnicity, allowing researchers to identify racial differences. This method has successfully measured discrimination in the housing sector for decades and continues to be a valuable tool for fair housing experts and agencies who are working to combat housing discrimination.
The hope is that through HUD complaints and lawsuits housing providers will be held accountable for their actions and ultimately improve their compliance with fair hosuing law. In the meantime, it is important for individuals to understand their rights as renters, homeowners, and home seekers. Those who believe they have experienced discrimination should file a complaint with HUD. Housing discrimination continues to occupy our communities and it is important to be aware of and work alongside our neighbors to eliminate discriminatory practices.
To file a complaint with HUD:
Additional information and resources:
By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator
There’s a new home in town, providing persons with disabilities the opportunity to live independently. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve Nazaran, the Community Coordinator of L’Arche Chicago, to learn about their model and why more people should support this program.
L’Arche is a vibrant Community Integrated Living Arrangement for people with and without disabilities, located on Chicago’s west side. The home is comprised of four core members with disabilities that live with three people without disabilities. L’Arche Chicago is accessible to downtown, public transportation, and a wealth of resources.
The home is integrated into the neighborhood so from the outside L’Arche reflects the same structural qualities as most other homes in the area. “We want the layout and design of the homes to be esthetically pleasing,” says Nazaran. Most neighbors like the idea of a L’Arche home in the area or do not notice that this type of community living is present. The homes are well maintained, creating no impact to the character of the neighborhood. Services are not provided on-site so that the home can focus on building community and learning from one another.
L’Arche is very intentional about connecting with the community. The home hosts monthly Community Nights to invite local residents over in an open house setting to share a meal and connect in a comfortable judgement-free environment. “Having these relationships helps you to realize their strengths and that they’re not all that different from you,” explains Nazaran. “Everyone has vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It helps you to recognize your prejudices and helps to broaden your views.” The L’Arche community helps to break down stereotypes that people may have towards persons with disabilities and illuminates the fact that the disabled population deserve to live with dignity and are active participants in society. L’Arche residents are employed by local businesses within the area, which is another way that the residents connect with the community.
One barrier that L’Arche faces is physical accessibility. Due to the housing stock type within the region, L’Arche homes are typically two flats which prevent wheelchair access to the 2nd floor for potential residents and visitors of the home. The installation of elevators and ramps would be ideal; however in most cases funding is not available to make those accommodations. Despite this barrier, L’Arche homes are open to all and accommodate within their financial means as much as possible. Many homes in the Chicago region have large community spaces, which is an asset for when people that need physical accommodations visit L’Arche.
People without disabilities also benefit from the L’Arche program. Nazaran explains that, “At times people come to L’Arche because they are service-minded and value the idea of building a relationship with a population that is typically separated from their world. Others have been somehow impacted by the disability community and have worked with the population before, but feel that they want to be a part of an experience where people with disabilities live a full life.” L’Arche does not market living in their community as a job. People come because they recognize that they can get something out of it. Unlike the high turnover rates in group homes, people without disabilities that live at L’Arche stay for years. After they transition out of the program, most in some way stay connected to the home and contribute to the mission of the program.
Due to the success of this program, there are L’Arche homes in more than 30 countries worldwide.
For more information: L’Arche Chicago
By Morgan P Davis, Fair Housing Policy Director
Recent strides in the fight for equal LGBT rights, such as Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision to overturn DOMA and Proposition 8, are uplifting and show promise for the future of equal rights. Still, it is crucial that this effort garners Federal housing protections so that members of the LGBT community can live wherever they want and to bring us one step closer to true equality.
The 1968 Fair Housing Act does not delineate sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes. While about 20 states, including Illinois, list sexual orientation as a protected class, only about 15 states extend this same protection to transgender individuals. Further, local ordinances around the nation vary significantly, creating an uneven housing choice topography and sabotages the creation of a fair housing market.
To remedy this troubling hole in LGBT housing rights, the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act (HOME) was drafted in 2010 to amend the Fair Housing Act. However, when Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the HOME Act of 2011, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, where it died. A companion bill introduced in the Senate by then Democratic Senator of Massachusetts, John Kerry, met a similar fate.
Since then, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) reintroduced the HOME act to the House of Representatives on June 25th in hopes of harnessing the current heightened national attention towards LGBT rights. Additionally, with Kerry now serving as Secretary of State, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) took on the role of reintroducing the companion legislation in the Senate on the 27th of June. This reintroduction of the HOME legislation in Congress comes after the publication of a HUD study that found that same-sex couples are more likely to experience unfavorable treatment when trying to rent a home than heterosexual couples.
“We applaud Senator Kerry and Representative Nadler for their efforts to bring the Fair Housing Act into the 21st Century,” said Shanna L. Smith, National Fair Housing Alliance President and CEO. “These much-needed changes to the Act reflect our nation’s commitment to creating stronger, more diverse and inclusive neighborhoods. Housing discrimination is wrong and runs counter to the American spirit of opportunity. It’s time we leave intolerance and bigotry in America’s dark history of senseless exclusion and instead continue to march on the path to equality.”
If passed, the HOME Act would amend the Fair Housing Act by prohibiting discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, the financing of housing, and in brokerage services on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. The proposed Act also seeks to expand the Fair Housing Act’s definition of “familial status” to accurately reflect contemporary family arrangements. This means extending the term to include “anyone standing in loco parentis” of one or more individuals who are not 18 years of age. In other words, parents without legal status will also be protected under “familial status”.
The Act would prohibit discrimination in lending on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Further, HOME would require a seller or landlord to refrain from engaging in housing discrimination, even after the purchase or the lease is signed.
Now is the time to mobilize and press forward for a more inclusive and just Fair Housing Act that includes the LGBT community. As the cornerstone of the fair housing community, this legislation must be a reflection of all citizens’ rights. We must work to set Federal standards that will pave the way to integrated and diverse communities across the board if we are to affirmatively further fair housing.
By Zoe Chapin, Fair Housing Policy Intern
Photo by Guillaume Paumier