July 24, 2013

#Housing101: Knowing Your Rights

In the 1940’s, my grandparents left Jim-Crow Alabama to move to the de-segregated northern town of Cleveland, Ohio.  My grandfather returned to Cleveland after WWII and decided that he wanted to move from the inner-city to the suburbs. He fell in love with a picket fence house in a neighborhood a few miles outside of downtown Cleveland. My grandfather contacted the real-estate agent to arrange a viewing. Even though my grandfather had the means to pay for the home, the real estate agents refused to let him view the property because he was African-American.

Sadly, my grandfather’s story is similar to that of the millions of Americans who have experienced housing discrimination. At the time this horrible incident happened to my grandfather, the Department of Housing and Urban Development did not yet exist. There would be no law that made this treatment illegal for the next twenty years.

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made illegal systemic discrimination, Congress was unable to agree on legislation to enforce the law.  Many Americans participated in “Open Housing Protests,” led by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago in the summer of 1966.  The protesters wanted to eradicate discrimination in the housing market, and propel Congress to pass legislation that would create federal enforcement of these laws.

When Dr. King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson used the national tragedy to propel congressional action. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law on April 11, 1964 – just seven days after Dr. King’s death. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act is commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act. When initially passed, the Fair Housing law only covered four protective clauses: race, color religion and national origin. As our nation’s views on equality have broadened, so has the Fair Housing Act evolved to include more protected classes.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits direct providers of housing from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status, sex, gender or disability.  The law also covers housing discrimination in advertising, zoning practices, and mortgage lending.

While the blatant housing discrimination my grandfather experienced may be rarer today, housing discrimination still exists in more subtle forms. HUD recently released two new reports, which show that housing discrimination is still prevalent throughout our nation. Many people may not immediately realize they are being discriminated against because the discrimination is not always as blatant as in times past. I urge everyone to read examples of Fair Housing charges so they are aware of the many forms of masked discrimination.

If you feel that you have experienced housing discrimination, please contact HUD or your local fair housing agencies

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