Fair housing marks 50 years but it's still elusive for some
By Michelle Wilson
Mar 30, 2018 at 7:55 PM
On April 11, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap and family status. This important law also made it unlawful for a housing provider to make, print or publish any statement or advertisement providing for a preference based on these classes.
This year, we Floridians join all Americans in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act. We are encouraged to learn more about our rights and responsibilities under the act as a part of National Fair Housing Month. For the past 50 years, Americans across this great land are reminded that all citizens are entitled to the same fair housing rights when seeking to rent, own, buy or insure a home, and they are free to take action if they suspect discrimination.
Unfortunately, 50 years of fair housing laws have sometimes failed to deliver justly. For many people of color, fair housing today remains just as elusive as it was in 1968.
A year-long analysis of 31 million records by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that:
• The homeownership gap between blacks and whites is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era. Another independent research report by the Economic Policy Institute found that the difference in black homeownership between 1968 and 2018 is virtually the same — 41.1 percent (1968) compared to 41.2 percent (2018).
• In 61 metro areas across the country, blacks were 2.7 times more likely than whites to be denied a conventional mortgage loan.
• As the number of nonbank mortgage lenders rises, these businesses are not required to adhere to the Community Reinvestment Act that requires lending to low-income borrowers and in blighted areas.
The Florida Commission on Human Relations is the state agency charged with investigating cases of housing discrimination. Last year, the FCHR investigated more than 200 cases where housing discrimination was alleged. The top five bases of discrimination were, in order of most to least: disability, race, national origin, familial status and sex.
Even with the passage of the federal act and the Florida Fair Housing Act in 1983, discrimination in housing persists. As executive director of the commission, I often have the opportunity to inform people that they have the power to fight housing discrimination. If they feel they have been discriminated against, they should either contact the FCHR, a fair housing center in their local area or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as the first step in the process. Remember, “Fair Housing Equals Opportunity.”
While unlawful discrimination continues to keep many individuals and families from obtaining the housing of their choice, the passage half a century ago of the Fair Housing Act took a giant step forward in addressing this issue.
Michelle Wilson is executive director of the Florida Commission on Human Relations. If you feel you are a victim of housing discrimination, call the FCHR at 850-488-7082 or visit fchr.state.fl.us.