Bus Tour Newsletter #19 – April 2022

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April is National Fair Housing Month, which means that we celebrate the 54th anniversary of the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Although we have had many successes in the fight against housing discrimination, there is still a long road to traverse towards a more just society. 

A Brief History of Equal Protections Under the Law

At the core of the fair housing movement is the goal of providing equal protections and opportunities to all.

In 1868, one hundred years before the Fair Housing Act passed, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which included a provision known as the Equal Protection Clause.

The 14th Amendment was passed soon after the Civil War, and while its original intent has been debated, it is widely agreed that it was meant to stop states from discriminating against Black Americans. The Equal Protection Clause ensures that the government has a responsibility to provide equal opportunity for all citizens to participate in society.

In the wake of public pressure from the Open Housing Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Congress passed the Fair Housing Act to uphold its responsibility under the 14th Amendment. However, true housing choice remains elusive.

Fair housing organizations like FHCO exist to enforce equal protection and opportunity ensured to all Americans under Fair Housing laws. While overt acts of housing discrimination still occur, much of what has kept housing justice out of reach for so many are the covert impacts of systemic and institutional inequities that continue to operate in the housing market.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Fair Housing Act into law, on April 11, 1968, seven days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. (Source: fhact50.org)

Covert Discrimination in Housing

As a result of covert discrimination in the housing market on a structural level, there is a widening gap in homeownership rates between Black and white households — even wider today than it was in 1960 before the Fair Housing Act passed. 

One example of covert racism in the housing market is “modern-day redlining,” in which lenders prioritize loan applicants in majority-white neighborhoods over neighborhoods that are a majority Black or Latinx. Low home appraisals of Black-owned houses in majority Black neighborhoods are another example of the covert racism we see in the housing market today.

Since the days of government-backed housing discrimination, we have moved from the overt exclusion of Black Americans from the housing market to the covert predatory inclusion of Black Americans. One example of predatory inclusion is the targeting of formerly redlined neighborhoods with subprime mortgages, which contributed to the 2008 housing crisis.  

The higher risk of Black maternal mortality is just one example of how historically racist lending practices still impact the wellbeing of Black Americans today. For example, when researchers took birth certificates in 15 zip codes in Rochester, New York, and overlaid them with old redlining maps, they found a correlation between areas with the highest preterm births and areas historically zoned as a “hazardous” lending risk by HOLC maps. Disparities in housing opportunities have also led to disparities in the quality of education accessible to Black and white children.

Housing justice has not yet been achieved despite the long and strenuous march toward equal rights since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the white moderate ideals about peace, order, and the right time are a stumbling block in the road toward justice. It is oftentimes the most controversial proposed changes to the status quo that can have the greatest impact on creating avenues for opportunity.

Unfortunately, much of the pushback for the type of zoning that could create greater equity in the housing market comes from majority white, middle class homeowners who are worried about the value of their properties going down. Land use policy reform can have a major impact on the opportunities available for upward economic movement for members of protected classes. Portland’s Residential Infill Project is a great model for low density zoning land reform that will hopefully reverse years of exclusionary zoning.

If we want to continue making progress in the fight for housing justice, we must avoid the pitfalls of the overt discrimination of white supremacy and enduring impacts of covert racism that have created barriers. 


“Seven Days” documentary that tells the story of what happened in the seven days between Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the passage of the Fair Housing Act.

Striving for Freedom of Choice

There are many ways to improve our approach to housing that would create more equity and opportunity for everyone. Here is a brief list of learning resources that can help us move in the right direction: 

At FHCO, we are committed to the fight for fair housing and protecting the rights of all regardless of protected class. We strive to realize equality and the freedom of housing choice that brings the promise of opportunity. 


 

While you’re here, don’t miss the chance to join us for our upcoming virtual Fair Housing Month event, Neighborhoods Are for Everyone!

Register Here

We want to hear from you

Is there a particular topic we discuss on the bus tour that you are interested in learning more about? Does your organization host events related to racial justice or other topics that come up on our bus tour? Email your events and ideas to information@fhco.org to have them included in our future newsletters. 

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