Fair Housing Act

A law that prohibits discrimination in all facets of the home buying process on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

On April 11, 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, or as CRA '68), which was meant as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibited discrimination in housing, there were no federal enforcement provisions. The 1968 act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and as of 1974, gender; as of 1988, the act protects the disabled and families with children. It also provided protection for civil rights workers. Victims of discrimination may use both the 1968 act and the 1866 act (via section 1983) to seek redress. The 1968 act provides for federal solutions while the 1866 act provides for private solutions (i. e. , civil suits). The Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited the following forms of discrimination:1. Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin. People with disabilities and families with children were added to the list of protected classes by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. 2. Discrimination against a person in the terms, conditions or privilege of the sale or rental of a dwelling. 3. Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference of discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin (amended by Congress as part of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 to include sex and, as of 1988, people with disabilities and families with children. )4. Coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person's enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons or retaliating against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights. Beginning in 1980, Senator Orrin Hatch spoke in favor of rolling back provisions of the Fair Housing Act. Acting on his motion in 1988, Congress voted to weaken the ability of plaintiffs to prosecute cases of discriminatory treatment in housing. But the Fair Housing Act was also amended in 1988 to allow plaintiffs' attorneys to recover attorney's fees. Additionally, the 1988 amendment added people with disabilities and families with children to the classes covered by the Act. In the early 1990s, in Trouillon v. City of Hawthorne, the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) successfully challenged an urban renewal plan on the basis of race discrimination by bringing suit under the Fair Housing Act. Previous litigation under the Act had largely been limited to discrimination in buying or renting housing. Although he ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Judge Davis nevertheless disputed the allegations of discrimination. He said he based his ruling in part on the city's failure to prove that the area had a higher crime rate and lower property values than other parts of the city. The city "did not act in bad faith or fraudulently," Davis wrote. "(It) did not discriminate against any minority or low or moderate income person and did not violate any person's Due Process, Equal Protection or other Civil Rights. "Only certain kinds of discrimination are covered by fair housing laws. Landlords are not required by law to rent to any tenant who applies for a property. Landlords can select tenants based on objective business criteria, such as the applicant's ability to pay the rent and take care of the property. Landlords can lawfully discriminate against tenants with bad credit histories or low incomes, and (except in some areas) do not have to rent to tenants who will be receiving Section 8 vouchers. Landlords must be consistent in the screening, treat tenants who are inside and outside the protected classes in the same manner, and should document any legitimate business reason for not renting to a prospective tenant. As of 2010, no federal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is provided, but these protections do exist in some localities. HUD has stated that buyers and renters may discriminate and may request real estate agents representing them to limit home searches to parameters that are discriminatory. The primary purpose of the Fair Housing Act is to protect the buyer's (and renter's) right to seek a dwelling anywhere they choose. It protects the buyer's right to discriminate by prohibiting certain discriminatory acts by sellers, landlords, and real estate agents. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 defines housing discrimination as the “refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin. ” Title VIII of this Act is commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Later, sex, the disabled and families with children were added to this list. There are several organizations that oversee and attempt to uphold this law, including the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Social steering is a form of housing discrimination that involves housing authorities, real estate companies and even local governments steering certain groups of people, often minorities, into certain areas of a city. According to Realestateagent.com, it is “Directing a particular race to a certain neighborhood and away from others. An example is a real estate broker steering a black family away from a white neighborhood. ” Some types of housing projects can be taken as examples of steering. Often, especially in east coast cities, housing projects concentrate poor minorities into a few buildings or blocks, concentrating the population and isolating them from most of the city. Often the areas where the steering tends to concentrate certain groups of people lack city resources that other parts of the city may have. Mike Davis notes that in Los Angeles, the "ghetto" is not wired into key information circuits like the rest of the city such as education and cultural media. In the 1950s governments across America took initiatives to destroy so-called slums and ghettos of the cities, and put up housing projects in place. These multi-story, high-density projects were where whites began to push blacks who were dislocated by destruction of slums, also heavily avoided by the white population. Despite the Fair Housing Act, which included cases like Gautreaux and Shannon which prohibited placing projects exclusively in black neighborhoods, the trend did not end. Social steering can also be outside the economic institutions of real-estate a government policy decisions to build projects. Often the people living in a neighborhood may not be so friendly to people moving in that are different from them. For example, in 1985 an interracial couple moved into an all white neighborhood in Philadelphia. Upon arrival there was an angry mob waving torches and protesting the arrival of a person of color. The attitudes of people in certain neighborhoods therefore can also contribute to the segregation and steering of people of certain backgrounds. Before the Fair Housing Act many minorities were met with blatantly racist objects of deterrence such as signs in the neighborhood or at real estate companies explicitly saying they do not accept certain minorities. However, after the Fair Housing Act, steering took on the role of a subtle fashion, where realtors deceive and lie making it harder to learn about or rent/buy homes in certain neighborhoods. The minorities are guided or “steered” into neighborhoods with certain characteristics of economics and race. A Cleveland study revealed that 10% of companies in the 1970s practiced racial steering. As recently as 2006 there was an investigation of a real estate company in Chicago, where African-American and white testers attempted to buy condominiums. White testers were shown many more properties—around 36—while the African American testers only got to see on average 7. This was actually a lawsuit known as Coldwell Banker vs. Illinois Attorney General (2006). Another Detroit study showed that whites were rarely shown homes in non-white neighborhoods unless they asked to see them. There are numerous cases and studies done that show the more subtle end of racial and social steering after the Fair Housing Act. On the average, 50% of the time African-Americans are discriminated against when searching for housing. Redlining is related to steering because it is denying financial support and services to neighborhoods based on race, ethnicity, or economic status. Rather than subtly steering individual families towards certain areas or only giving them information on certain racial areas, redlining was a blatant but legally tolerated criteria for financial institutions to decide where to invest. Originating in the New Deal, this procedure was a protocol for deciding where federal, state and city funds would go for financial services. Affluent middle and upper middle class white areas were outlined in green on a map, meaning that financial services were clear to be rendered and these areas were desirable for investment. Racial areas, specifically African-American neighborhoods, were outlined in red, meaning they were undesirable and poor, not to mention racially mixed. These maps were used by banking institutions to construct guidelines for lending money. As a consequence, many of these redlined areas, which were also typically located in urban environments as whites tended to move out to the suburbs of America, experienced deterioration on a rapid scale. Since these areas have been neglected and redlined and cannot receive funds from banks to revitalize, they cannot attract businesses, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty. The poverty often leads to crime, and neighborhoods become further neglected because they continue to be unattractive to outside investment, and continue to be redlined by banks. Thus private banks and financial institutions as well as the U. S. government are accused of being responsible for these practices in several instances, which before the Fair Housing Act were widespread and blatant throughout the U. S. Redlining is still practiced today on a more subtle level. Instead of having official maps circulated to institutions, which is illegal, the public domain may tend to ignore poor neighborhoods by denying basic public services. Nancy A. Denton and Douglass S. Massey devised a segregation index to measure the degree of segregation of African-Americans and whites according to income levels. Their objective was to show that the discrimination of African-Americans when it comes to housing was not related to income level, which many thought to be true. Many have argued that continuing segregation is due to African-Americans generally making less money, which means they cannot afford to live in the same neighborhoods as affluent whites. But as the segregation index by Denton and Massey showed, blacks still remained highly segregated from whites no matter what the income level was. For example, in 1980, black families earning $2,500 a year or less had an index level of 86 while those earning $50,000 or more had an index level of 83. This trend was common throughout most major metropolitan areas, especially prevalent in the northern cities. The goal of this index was to show that upward economic mobility did not affect the level of segregation in America’s cities. It should be noted that Denton and Massey also surveyed Hispanics and Asians, and found on average the indices to be 64 which meant the poorest Hispanics and Asians were still less segregated than the most affluent blacks. Leslie Carr notes that in 1990, 74 percent of whites live in suburbs, while most African-Americans and Hispanics live in urban areas, and that African-Americans were a majority population in 14 cities (with populations over 100,000). The purpose of this study was to show that housing practices are indeed racially and not economically discriminatory . 1. Civil Rights Act of 1866: This is the law that declared all people born in the United States are legally citizens. This means they could rent, hold, sell and buy property. This law was meant to help former slaves, and those who refused to grant these new rights to slaves were guilty and punishable under law. The penalty was a fine of $1000 or a maximum of one year in jail. 2. Fair Housing Act of 1968: Title VIII of the Civil Rights act of 1968. Extends the protection to color, religion, sex and national origin. 3. The New York State Human Rights Law: Extends the protection to marital status and age, aimed to prevent non-racial discrimination. 4. Section 236 and 237 of the New York State Property Law: Further extends the protection to include dwellings with children and mobile home parks. This is meant to protect renters and sellers from discriminating based on number of children in a family. Currently the Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. The law applies to all types of housing, rental homes, apartments, condos and houses. The only exception to the act is when an owner of a small rental building lives in the same building he rents to. Since he owns the building and also resides there, he can decide who lives there. However this exception is shaky and does not hold up in court very well. Sexual orientation is not protected under the Fair Housing Act. This is because federal law does not protect gays and lesbians or other sexual minorities (transgender or transsexual) with discrimination in housing. There are only thirteen states that have passed gay and lesbian protection laws in housing. The states that have passed fair housing in regards to gays and lesbians are: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Areas that passed fair housing in regards to transgender people are: California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island and New York City. There are also cities that have passed laws making discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. These are: Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Covington (KY), Denver, Detroit, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Seattle. There are an estimated 2 million cases of housing discrimination each year according to the HUD. The National Fair Housing Alliance, the largest fair housing non-profit in the country, estimates that number to be closer to 4 million per year, excluding instances of discrimination due to disability or familial status. The actual number of Fair Housing Act violations is likely much higher than 4 million annually. However, between the years of 1989 and 1992 only 17 of these went to court nationwide. Redlining is still a major problem despite the legislature passed making it illegal. Studies and investigations have shown that minorities who apply for mortgages are rejected 3 times as much as Caucasians. According to one Federal Reserve Board study, among higher income applicants, the denial rates were as follows: African-Americans: 21. 4% Latinos: 15. 8% Asians: 11. 2% Whites: 8. 5% Housing Projects have also come under fire by researchers and NGO’s alike. Housing Advocates Elizabeth Julian and Michael Daniel, “in addition to the inequality in the actual housing provided to low-income African-American families under the federal programs, the neighborhoods in which they receive assistance are usually subject to various adverse conditions not found in the neighborhoods surrounding the housing units in which whites receive the same assistance. These conditions include inferior city-provided facilities and services, little or no new or newer residential housing, large numbers of seriously substandard structures, noxious environmental conditions, substandard or completely absent neighborhood service facilities, high crime rates, inadequate access to job centers, and little or no investment of new capital in the area by public and private entities. ” Thus, this discrimination goes beyond being poor because white housing projects receive more attention and public investment, making housing discrimination overall a racial problem. Although several legal measures have been taken to protect all kinds of people against housing discrimination in the U. S. , still the most commonly targeted and largest victims are African-Americans. gogo