At the Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity (FHEO), the month of March as Women’s History Month is more than a celebration and recognition of past achievements by women in America in the struggles for freedom, equality and justice. FHEO has a vital present day role for equality for women and the efforts of our staff members in Washington, D.C., and around the country have a powerful impact on the future opportunities of women and girls throughout America.
This past week, on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, I was honored by the Global Arts Foundation and San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women with their “Spirit of Equality Award.” I accepted that award on behalf of and because our FHEO staff is making a difference to women across America.
Looking back, FHEO did not gain statutory authority to combat gender discrimination in home rental, sales and lending until 1974, six years after President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. Women who demanded an end to unequal treatment such as having their economic credit dependent upon their marital status pressed Congress to expand the Fair Housing Act to include gender discrimination and to enact the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
Today, FHEO is in the midst of national investigations and protection for women who report being offered less favorable home mortgage terms because they are on maternity leave and lenders treat them as if they have no income. Last month, FHEO issued new guidance to ensure that the Fair Housing Act provides assistance to victims of domestic violence – mainly women – who are evicted or denied housing because of the violence perpetrated against them. Our guidance goes beyond the current Violence Against Women Act public housing provisions to extend protections to domestic violence victims who lose their homes in the private market because of policies that have a disparate impact on women.
Our individual casework enforcing the Fair Housing Act also advances freedom for women. In Pennsylvania, HUD successfully charged a landlord for evicting a woman for adopting a nine-year-old boy. The HUD charge resulted in a change of policy and a sufficient settlement amount so that the woman, with other support, could start a new life in a new home for herself and her son. In Alabama, HUD prevailed against a housing provider who stated that a white female tenant should “lose [her] black boyfriend” if she wanted the unit’s water service turned back on. And our Cincinnati FHEO staff has entered into a voluntary compliance agreement with a local housing authority to resolve my Secretary-initiated complaint stemming largely from retaliation concerns of African American women living in public housing.
As we move forward to strengthen the promise of Section 3 job and contracting opportunities, we are mindful that most families in public housing are headed by women. Section 3 gives us an opportunity to break down historic barriers against women entering the construction trades and to promote their self-sufficiency. As we move forward on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, reducing segregation and creating neighborhoods of opportunity bring young girls closer to quality integrated schools and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the essential skills for the 21st century.
March is a time to celebrate Women’s History. At FHEO and HUD, we are proud to play a role in shaping women’s futures.