April marks Fair Housing Month and the 43rd anniversary of President Johnson signing the Fair Housing Act into law. Borne out of the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the culmination of local and national civil rights struggles, the Fair Housing Act established the Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity (FHEO) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. At FHEO, we and our partners and allies within HUD and across the nation carry out and advance the cause of equality in housing throughout the year.
Too often, where we live determines our opportunities in life, including where we find employment, where our children go to school, and the extent to which we have access to vital community services and amenities. Where we live greatly influences our overall quality of life. By itself, the Fair Housing Act does not end barriers to living free from discrimination. That cause depends upon vigorous civil rights law enforcement, sustained public education, working with housing providers and the real estate industry, and ensuring that HUD’s own house is in order.
Every April, we go beyond recognizing the many individuals whose determination and perseverance significantly contributed to the passage of the law – visionary leaders like Senators Edward Brooke and Walter Mondale, who co-sponsored the initial legislation. As with other civil rights advances, the path to the Fair Housing Act began not in Washington, D.C., but by brave men and women in cities and towns across the nation and their advocates whose principal aim was to create better living environments for their families, free from discrimination.
Our 2011 Fair Housing Month theme, “Live Free,” sends a powerful message that discrimination has no home in America and that no person should be denied housing or treated differently because of their race, color, national origin, religion, gender, family status, or disability.
We are proud of the progress but not yet satisfied. We build on that progress and lengthen the vision. In the past few months, our work has resulted in relief for discrimination victims in Renton, Washington where African American and Latino tenants were charged higher rents for the same units; in Pennsylvania where a mother was evicted for adopting a young boy; and in Alabama where a trailer owner turned off the water to a white family’s unit until the young woman “lost” her black boyfriend. On a more systemic basis, our work creates expanded services and investments in minority communities in Southern Illinois, ends lending policies that discriminate against women on maternity leave and ensures that HUD dollars meaningfully promote self-sufficiency for public housing residents – access to jobs – and contracts for the companies who create those opportunities.
Together, FHEO and all of HUD share a singular purpose to invest public funds in communities that promote and expand opportunities for all people. And we work to ensure that HUD housing and programs are open to all families, irrespective of marital status, gender identity and sexual orientation.
The Fair Housing Act means that all persons can live free in the neighborhoods they choose. We bring greater opportunity and resolve to end housing segregation. The product of our work together will be most greatly felt by people we may never meet and in the years ahead. Nonetheless, the importance of this effort to chart a new course of equality and opportunity is fundamental to America’s founding and America’s future. That is what we celebrate in Fair Housing Month.