We recently talked about the history leading up to the Fair Housing Act, including the complicated social and economic factors that were in play when it was first drafted and finally brought into being.
Now, let’s talk about what the Fair Housing Act is like today (because there have been some big changes since it first began).
Why Was the Fair Housing Act So Important?
Housing and mortgage discrimination used to be the rule, not the exception. The use of so-called “redlined” districts by lenders (including the federal government) declared urban neighborhoods with mixed racial demographics or largely African American residents a risk for home loans. Plus, the use of “whites-only” covenants often kept other races out of suburban developments, effectively keeping many blacks locked into urban rentals.
It’s a mistake, however, to think that housing discrimination was just about housing. Housing discrimination also kept African Americans and other non-whites from obtaining better educations, getting better jobs and building the kind of generational wealth through real estate acquisition that whites were able to take for granted. The “separate-but-equal” policies that restricted African Americans from living where they wanted to live were anything but equal — and they made other forms of discrimination easier.
As whites fled the cities for the suburbs, there was a mass exodus of employment opportunities with them. Since blacks were not welcome to follow, unemployment rose in the inner cities and poverty and crime became a bigger problem. Schools, which are largely funded by taxes, began to suffer in urban areas, making a quality education harder to achieve if you weren’t white. Residential segregation also made voting suppression easier and led to gerrymandering, which further deprived non-whites of political and economic power.
Changing the status quo that had come to exist in America was seen as an essential step toward fulfilling this country’s promise of the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — and that gave birth to the Fair Housing Act.
What Happened After the Fair Housing Act Finally Passed?
The 1968 Fair Housing Act was a landmark piece of legislation that, in many ways, capped off the civil rights movement of that area. Designed to eliminate both legally enshrined discrimination and the de facto discrimination that rose from racial segregation policies in nearly every aspect of American life, the Fair Housing Act had still failed to gain approval from Congress until the assassination death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Then, for a while, everything came to a halt. By the 1980s, it became apparent that the Fair Housing Act hadn’t gone quite far enough, so Congress passed the Fair Housing Amendments Act in 1988. The amendments expanded on the Fair Housing Act’s original measures, which barred discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origins or sex. New protections were extended against discrimination based on someone’s disability or family status (meaning the presence of a child under the age of 18 in a buyer’s household or the presence of a pregnant woman).
The new rules also gave the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) more authority to enforce the Fair Housing Act. Now, complaints about housing and mortgage discrimination can be investigated by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Landlords, sellers, realtors, banks and others found to be in violation of the Fair Housing Act can face hefty civil fines — up to $16,000 for a first violation (and significantly more, should the Justice Department get involved). Victims of discrimination can also sometimes be awarded punitive damages in court through civil claims.
What does housing discrimination look (or sound) like? It might include:
- A seller who demands more earnest money on a home from would-be buyers when they’re minorities, but is willing to accept less from white would-be buyers
- Being “steered” toward certain neighborhoods and homes (or away from others) based on your race or some other protected factor
- Being charged higher interest rates that have nothing to do with your creditworthiness and everything to do with your status as a single woman, someone with a disability or membership in a racial minority
- Purposeful stalling to keep from showing a home to a prospective buyer or telling a potential buyer they “won’t fit into” a neighborhood because of their race, family makeup or another protected factor
Naturally, many instances of housing discrimination will be subtle are subtle or completely undetectable without the opportunity to compare notes with another person requesting the same service. That’s why tester programs and building consumer awareness are so important. A couple of well-placed questions will often reveal why.
A Few Final Thoughts on Fair Housing and Discrimination
Knowing how something began and what forces were in play at the very start always helps to create a clearer picture of why that thing is so important, and the Fair Housing Act is no different. Recent events have made it abundantly clear that discrimination is still an issue for many people — despite decades of efforts and progress.
Between 2000 and 2017, there have been anywhere between 20,000 and 31,000 housing discrimination complaints made to HUD, with the number rising slightly over the years. That fact alone shows that the battle toward equality is far from over.
At Talk to Tucker, we’re committed to providing all of our clients with equal opportunities for the future. We believe that better days are coming, and we plan to be part of the solution. We support the rights of every person, regardless of race, gender, disability, family composition or religion to have access to the housing they want and need — and we can help achieve your goals.