Advocacy still necessary to ensure fair housing for all

Fair housing laws protect minorities from discrimination, but they haven’t eliminated bad behavior in the lending and housing industries. 

The fight for fair housing began during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Blacks living in the South, where Jim Crow segregation was enforced, faced the most discrimination. And the result of this segregation was a physically divided nation. White people fled diverse urban areas, black people continued to reside in cramped urban dwellings. However, when black people started becoming more financially established and sought housing in better neighborhoods, they were often turned away by real estate agents and banks. 

In response, the first major piece of fair housing legislation was passed in 1968. The Fair Housing Act prohibited housing discrimination primarily on the basis of race. It also made the practice of “redlining” illegal, which was a step towards creating a more integrated society. Then in 1988, the act was amended to ban discrimination on the basis of race, color, disability, sex, familial status or origin. 

Unfortunately, some of these unfair housing practices persist today, and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition fights these injustices using fair housing advocates and testers. 

For example, in 2016, an NCRC fair housing tester found that there was no accessible route from the parking lot to the apartment buildings at The Lofts at Southside, a rental property owned by Southside Revitalization in Durham, North Carolina. Additionally, the rental applications included questions prohibited under the Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Ordinance of Durham. After negotiations with NCRC, Southside Revitalization agreed to remove the discriminatory questions and hire a fair housing design and construction accessibility professional to inspect the property and make updates such as an accessibility ramp. 

Also in Durham in 2016, the Landing Apartment Complex refused to provide a resident with a reasonable accommodation on the basis of receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). The apartment complex had arbitrarily raised the resident’s rent by $250.00 per month in 2014. Since the resident relied solely on limited disability income to pay for housing and living expenses, the resident requested that the rent revert to the original amount. The resident also requested that the complex add her name to the waiting list for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Project Section 8 unit at the complex, which is imperative for people with SSDI because HUD limits rent increases on those apartments. This is an additional protection for people with disabilities who live on fixed incomes.

Unsuccessful in her first attempts to reinstate her original rent amount, the resident reached out to NCRC for assistance. NCRC advocated and negotiated on the resident’s behalf, obtaining a signed agreement with the rental complex in 2017 that provided the requested  Section 8 housing and rent protections for the resident. These protections saved the client $3,000 in living expenses that year. 

Access to safe and affordable housing is a right, not a privilege. It is important to continue to support fair housing work across the board by educating renters and property owners on Fair Housing requirements, engaging in fair housing testing at locations to ensure accessibility and advocating for better fair housing laws and regulations. Through equitable and fair housing advocates, organizations can continue to mitigate the side effects of an ever-increasing racial wealth divide. 

NCRC’s Fair Housing Department works closely with local organizations to combat housing discrimination across the United States. For more information, contact Tracy McCracken at tmccracken@ncrc.org.  202-383-7709. 

Photo by HUD via Flickr

Tracy McCracken is NCRC’s director of Fair Housing.
Elizabeth Beauchamp is a communications specialist at NCRC.
Noor Adatia is a summer 2019 intern at NCRC.

 

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