It’s Fair Housing Month. Here’s Why It Matters
April is Fair Housing Month. For decades, it’s been a time to celebrate the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. It was a game-changing piece of legislation that’s helped weed out housing discrimination of all kinds. The result has been a more even playing field, whether you’re renting a home, applying for a mortgage, or seeking homeowners insurance.
While there’s still more work to be done to eliminate housing discrimination, it still represents a huge step in the right direction. At Matic, we think it’s important to take a pause to reflect on why the Fair Housing Act matters.
The History of the Fair Housing Act
The late 1960s brought a wave of much-needed social change. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which essentially expanded on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It added critical new protections, including the Fair Housing Act. Regarding the sale, rental or financing of a home, the act made it illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, national origin, handicap, family status, or sex. (The scope of the law has since widened to include sexual orientation and gender identity.)
The Fair Housing Act passed shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many saw it as a way to honor his legacy. It was important given the rampant housing discrimination of the time. One example of this discrimination was the widespread practice of redlining, which was officially in place at the height of segregation from the 1930s through the 1960s. The government provided an assessment on levels of risk to offer federal mortgages in more than 200 neighborhoods based on location and resident demographics. “High risk” areas, which were typically home to minorities and in particular, Black residents, were identified on maps in the color red to help mortgage lenders decide where they should deny loans or provide unfavorable financing options (like high interest rates). This led to an even greater disparity in access to homeownership and wealth for Black Americans, and although the practice is now illegal, its effects are still felt today.
Senator Edward Brooke was a driving force in pushing the legislation forward. He had experienced this type of discrimination firsthand after returning home from World War II. When President Nixon took office, he began appointing officials to carry out the important work laid out in the Fair Housing Act.
Why It Matters
The Fair Housing Act allows people to report instances of suspected housing discrimination to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For many, these complaints have initiated successful court cases. The Fair Housing Act has also widened accessible housing for people with disabilities.
That’s not to say that it magically eradicated housing discrimination, but it has allowed for some degree of progress. There were over 28,700 reported complaints of housing discrimination in 2020 alone, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance. Below is a list of some prohibited acts based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin, according to the Fair Housing Act:
- Refusing housing or negotiation
- Setting different terms and conditions for certain buyers or sellers
- Setting different prices for certain buyers or sellers
- Using different housing application criteria for certain buyers or sellers
- Steering prospective buyers or renters toward alternative housing arrangements
- Failing to make necessary maintenance or repairs
- Refusing to make a mortgage loan
- Refusing to make reasonable accommodations and modifications for a person with disabilities
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it provides a snapshot of what the Fair Housing Act stands for.
How the Fair Housing Act Affects the Housing Market Today
Unfortunately, this type of discrimination continues to affect today’s housing market in different ways. Residential segregation persists. This, coupled with racial disparities in home appreciation, can put Black homeowners at a disadvantage when it comes to building equity and overall wealth, according to the Center for American Progress. In terms of financing, the Urban Institute notes that Black applicants are denied mortgages at a rate that’s nearly twice as high as their white counterparts.
Housing discrimination takes many forms. HUD studies have found that transgender renters are often told about fewer units when compared to cisgender homeseekers. According to other HUD research, many landlords simply refuse to rent to people who hold housing choice vouchers. These are provided through the federal Section 8 program, which provides housing assistance to low-income families.
The Future of the Fair Housing Act
The goal of the Fair Housing Act is to eliminate housing discrimination in all its forms, though we recognize that it won’t happen overnight. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) showed its commitment by launching a Fair Housing Action Plan. It outlines NAR’s plan to hold real estate agents accountable to their fair housing obligations. This involves special trainings and fair housing education, such as unconscious-bias training. With regard to mortgage lending, strides are being made to remove bias in datasets that would allow machine-learning models to make fairer home loan approval predictions.
Additionally, several organizations are committed to ending housing discrimination from all angles. For example, real estate firm Greenwood Seneca has a vision to rebuild the modern Black Wall Street and create a world where the Black community has equality and equity across every industry — leading to less of a need for legislation like the Fair Housing Act.
“As we consider this vision along with the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the housing market based on race, color, religion, national origin, and — years later — sex, disability, and familial status, we are driven more than ever by our work in Historic Westside Las Vegas, Nevada, the Fourth Ward in Houston, Texas, and Inglewood, California,” said Taurean Gordon, Co-founder of Greenwood Seneca. “Access to real estate ownership remains at the core of the Greenwood Seneca vision.”
Consumer education is likely another powerful tool in putting an end to housing discrimination. If you believe you’ve been victimized, you can file a formal complaint with HUD. Understanding your rights is an important step toward building a fairer housing market.