50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

June Feature from NAR:

Despite the Law’s Original Intent, Not All Groups Are Covered by the Fair Housing Act

As he signed the Fair Housing Act into law in April 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson explained the significance of the new law and the changes it sought to bring. “It proclaims that fair housing for all — all human beings who live in this country — is now a part of the American way of life,” he declared.

Despite President Johnson’s words, the Fair Housing Act does not in fact apply to “all human beings who live in this country,” although steps have been taken to bring it closer to that point. Since its passage 50 years ago, the Act has expanded from its initial four protected classes to seven. Race, color, religion, and national origin were included in the original 1968 version. Gender was added as a protective class in 1974, and disability and familial status were included in 1988.

A major group of people not currently covered under the Fair Housing Act is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community, a group which comprises at least 6-7 percent of the U.S. population, according to various surveys. Under present law, LGBTQ people can and do face

discrimination, legally, when they want to purchase a home, rent an apartment, or apply for a mortgage loan. A 2013 study prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that housing discrimination against gay and lesbian couples was comparable to that faced by black and Hispanic households.

 Although federal fair housing protection is largely unavailable to LGBTQ consumers, many states do have their own protections in place. In 1973, the District of Columbia enacted a measure to prevent housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, part of the city’s groundbreaking laws known originally as Title 34, and later as its Human Rights Act. Gender identity was added to the law in 2006.

Nearly a decade later, in 1982, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to make housing discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal under its fair housing laws, followed by Vermont in 1992 and Minnesota in 1993. Overall, 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, have non-discrimination laws in place to protect LGBT people from being unfairly evicted, denied housing, or refused the ability to rent or buy housing on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an independent think tank. Twenty of those states, plus D.C., also include protections based on gender identity.

Twenty-eight states, however, have no laws in place to prevent housing discrimination against the LGBT community. In the majority of states, therefore, LGBT consumers who face unfair housing practices have virtually no recourse under state or federal laws. Three states – Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina – even have enacted laws preventing the passage or enforcement of local non-discrimination laws.

 In 1974, the National Association of REALTORS® rewrote its Code of Ethics, adding Article 10 to mirror the intent of the Fair Housing Act and its protected classes. In 2010, Article 10 was amended to prevent discrimination against colleagues or consumers on the basis of sexual orientation, and gender identity was added in 2013. Since all REALTORS® subscribe to the Code of Ethics as a condition of membership, Article 10 acts as a supplement to fair housing protections where they are available, and provides guidance to transactions where such laws do not exist.

At the time of the 2010 amendment, NAR General Counsel Laurie Janik said that its passage would put the association ahead of the curve. “We know we will be ahead of Congress if we enact this,” she said.

So far, the REALTOR® organization has remained ahead of Congress on fair housing protections for the LGBTQ community. At the federal level, however, there has been some movement to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the protected classes covered under the Fair Housing Act. As early as 1977, HUD enacted a policy to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in public housing. In the current session of Congress, bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.

 In 2017, a federal court ruled for the first time that LGBTQ couples are covered under the Fair Housing Act. The case involved a female couple, one of whom was transgender, that was denied access to rental housing by a landlord in Colorado. The U.S. District Court in Denver ruled in favor of the couple, stating that the landlord had violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against the couple based on their sex. Although the ruling applied to this one case, it is not clear if the courts will apply it to others. NAR is seeking legislation amending the Fair Housing Act to apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

May Feature from NAR:

Is 50 Years Enough? Why the Fight for Fair Housing Continues, and REALTORS®’ Role in Ensuring Its Success

 Signed into law on April 11, 1968, the Fair Housing Act is vital to ensuring that everyone in America has equal access to housing. The terms of the law inform property owners, home sellers, real estate professionals, renters and buyers that no one can be denied the right to housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, disability, or national origin.

Yet even a quick glance at some of the headlines that appeared in many news publications around the country in the weeks surrounding the Act’s 50th anniversary makes it clear that there is still much progress to be made:

  • How redlining still hurts home values Marketwatch, Apr. 28
  • Blacks still face a red line on housing New York Times, Apr. 14
  • Five decades after Fair Housing Act, segregation continues Baltimore Sun, Apr. 13
  • 50 years after Fair Housing Act, black home ownership rates no better and it’s even worse in Silicon Valley San Jose Business Journal, Apr. 12
  • Facebook sued by housing advocates alleging discrimination Wall Street Journal, Mar. 27
  • Report: No progress for African Americans on homeownership, unemployment and incarceration in 50 years Washington Post, Feb. 26

 Despite the best intentions of the Fair Housing Act, housing discrimination and segregation still exist in both blatant and subtle ways. African American households still struggle to recover from the culture of discrimination that prevailed for decades before the Fair Housing Act came into being. The homeownership rate for African American households lagged over 20 percent behind the United States’ overall homeownership rate of 63.9 percent in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. African Americans’ homeownership rate has been on the decline for over a decade, from a highpoint of 49.1 percent in 2005 to 42.3 percent today. The lack of homeownership and missed opportunity to accumulate home equity, translates to a lack of family wealth and fewer resources for future generations. The result is a cycle of a lack of generational wealth. Further, many parts of the country continue to be racially segregated. In some locations, segregation is rooted in economic status, but often lower income earners are also minorities.

This year’s commemoration of the Fair Housing Act’s first fifty years has brought much attention to the benefits it represents and how far we’ve come since 1968. But it has also raised awareness of the changes that still need to happen.

Although proclamations, press releases, essay contests, and other recognitions of the Fair Housing Act’s significance are certainly worthwhile and important, it’s also vital for members of the REALTOR® community to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” by taking on the more difficult work of addressing the inequalities and unfairness that still exist.

We recently spoke with Zeke Morris and Gail Hartnett, chair and vice-chair, respectively, of NAR’s 2018 Fair Housing Act Anniversary Implementation Group, about how REALTORS® can carry the spirit of the Fair Housing Act forward through its next 50 years:

Q: Why after 50 years is there still a need to focus on fair housing?

GAIL: We need to continue this because the fact is it just isn’t done! It is still happening. It’s something that the majority of people in this country don’t even realize, that in fact there’s a need for us to understand that although we are all created equal, we are not being treated equally. Fair housing has to be ongoing, front of mind, or else it is going to take a back seat.

ZEKE: The key to equality is wealth. And the way we build wealth in this nation is through homeownership. If the homeownership numbers for minorities continue to lag, where Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians tend to be significantly less than our white counterparts, then we are always going to be behind the curve. What do we do to put in on an incline instead of a decline, moving upwards? The primary thing is jobs. If you look at the employment or the median incomes of the various households, you see that African Americans are the lowest. I believe that it begins with jobs and it finally gets to homeownership. We need to eliminate some of those barriers so that we can have higher rates that will allow us to build generational wealth over time. I put that in terms of my family. My wife and I sat down with our children and told them that our family will the first in our lineage that will be able to provide some generational wealth for you. We will put you in a situation where you will have the opportunity to make a purchase a lot sooner than the norm within our community.

Q: What can the REALTOR® community do to make fair housing a reality?

GAIL: We really need to educate. The National Association of REALTORS® must find a way to hit every single member; not an easy task, but it needs to start somewhere. Just like the culture of RPAC advocacy, we need to create a culture of fair housing advocacy. We need to reach our members and leadership, our association executives, our CEOs, the people that are a constant in the REALTOR® association. State and local associations should have somebody on staff who acts as the fair housing guru. It would promote that awareness by having somebody be the expert to speak on fair housing issues.

ZEKE: I believe it has to come from leadership on all levels. Just pretty much what Gail said, everything we do as an organization is based upon how our leadership feels. I think the biggest problem we have is we don’t know each other’s stories. And when we don’t know each other’s stories, then we don’t really understand how to perhaps get other people involved because we don’t know what’s important to them. The only way we get to have that story is to increase our diversity in leadership so we have varied opinions on things and can come to the best decisions. If our leadership is diverse then so will be the way we approach things.

Q: What do you want people to take away from NAR’s yearlong commemoration?

GAIL: Every state and every local association should have a year-long plan to commemorate and advocate for fair housing. Something planned out for how they are going to implement change in their communities, whether it be something small or something large. You have to just start some place to begin building that culture of fair housing. If your association missed the first couple of months of this year’s commemoration and April was their kickoff that’s okay, or if May becomes the kickoff, that’s okay too. Find a way to make a difference in your community and start.

April Feature from NAR:

“The First Step in a 1000-mile Journey”: How the Dream of a Fair Housing Act Became Reality

One hundred years after the last shots were fired in the Civil War, African Americans were still struggling against unfair treatment and discrimination in practically all aspects of society. Through individual acts of defiance and nonviolent mass protests, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s pushed against the societal norms and laws that allowed discrimination. And it was working. Federal, state, and local laws slowly began to change, and by 1965 there were laws on the books outlawing discrimination in employment, schools, and other public services. In August 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, designed to stop discrimination against blacks at the voting booth. The next hurdle to overcome was discrimination in housing.

The National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing and the NAACP began a nationwide push for integration in housing. The theme was taken up by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1966 when he came to Chicago in the first explicitly northern campaign in the civil rights movement, the Chicago Freedom Movement. The proponents of that movement argued that the City of Chicago could end housing segregation by imposing changes on the way real estate brokers did business. Lead by the National Association of REALTORS®, the majority of real estate brokers opposed so-called “forced housing” laws, arguing that the federal government should not be involved in home owners’ personal decisions regarding to whom they wanted to sell their property.

Those personal decisions, and the real estate practices that enabled them, allowed housing discrimination and neighborhood segregation to flourish. “We are here today because we are tired,” Dr. King explained at a rally in Chicago’s Soldier Field. “We are tired of paying more for less. We are tired of living in rat-infested slums… We are tired of having to pay a median rent of $97 a month in Lawndale for four rooms while whites living in South Deering pay $73 a month for five rooms…. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children.”

Over the next several months, King and local activists held non-violent demonstrations outside real estate offices and marched into all-white neighborhoods. The reception they received from the communities, however, was often fierce and violent. Seeking to end the protests and prevent further ruptures, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley negotiated with Dr. King and other housing activists, leading to an agreement in which the Chicago Housing Authority promised to build public housing with limited height requirements and the Mortgage Bankers Association agreed to make mortgages available regardless of race. Although King called the agreement “the most significant program ever conceived to make open housing a reality,” he also saw it as only “the first step in a 1,000-mile journey.”

Dr. King’s Chicago Open Housing Movement is often credited with having laid the groundwork for the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Similar movements were soon started in other major cities, attempting to keep a focus on discriminatory housing practices and the effects of neighborhood segregation at a time when the nation’s attention was also drawn towards the Vietnam War and a slowing economy.
In the end, the process of actually passing the Fair Housing Act started with the briefest of mentions in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s State of the Union address in January 1968. Nearing the end of his speech, Johnson stated his intention to urge Congress to act on several pending bills that address civil rights measures, including fair jury trials, equal opportunity employment, and fair housing. “This statement,” reported the National Association of REALTORS®, which opposed any federal fair housing law, “was greeted by dead silence.”

After that, little happened on the legislative front until the release in March 1968 of the Kerner Commission Report. In July 1967, in the wake of riots in Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and other cities, President Johnson formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission) to investigate the causes of the unrest and provide recommendations for the future. The report concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Unless conditions were remedied, the Commission warned, the country faced a “system of ’apartheid’” in its major cities. In order to correct these issues, the Commission urged legislation to promote racial integration and enrich slums, primarily through the creation of jobs, job training programs, and decent housing, including creation of a national fair housing law. Despite its urgency and warnings, the Kerner Commission’s recommendations were set aside by the president and Congress.
One month later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was fatally shot in Memphis, TN. Riots immediately broke out in urban areas throughout the country. It was this national tragedy and its aftermath that served as catalysts for passage of the pending fair housing legislation, which had been introduced earlier but stalled in Congress.

 

March Feature from NAR:

From One Voice to Many: Despite Setbacks and Opposition, How a Growing Chorus Paved the Way to Fair Housing

Looking back on the fifty years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, it’s easy to recognize the line in the sand that was drawn when President Lyndon B. Johnson’s pen made the bill into law. Before that day, housing discrimination was integral to the way real estate business was conducted, and afterwards, the law signaled that such practices were no longer tolerable.

But the change wasn’t as sudden as it might appear at first glance. The road to fair housing was a process that took decades to navigate. From the mid-nineteenth century on, community activism, the Civil Rights movement, and court cases at all levels of the judiciary chipped away at the long-standing views that made discrimination such a powerful institution.

Within the real estate industry itself, there were signals that the old way of doing business was on the way out. In 1944, a letter to the editor appeared in the National Real Estate Journal, written by REALTOR® W. H. Daum, a former president of the California Association of REALTORS®. Responding to an article promoting ideas for housing “colored people,” Daum countered: “It strikes me that this problem is being set up as a tremendous one, when as a matter of fact it is simple, and the solution is this: Placing subdivisions or homes on the market without race restrictions. The subdivisions can be made as large as are required to take care of the population that desires to live in a district not restricted as to race. This includes people of all nations, colored, white, yellow and others.”

Views such as Daum’s were exceedingly rare in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by middle-aged white males, but the voices were out there for those who chose to listen. Over time, those voices became louder and bolder and more widespread, imploring the National Association of Real Estate Boards (as NAR was then called) and others at the forefront of the real estate industry to take notice.

For many local REALTOR® associations, preventing anyone who wasn’t a white male from becoming members (and gaining access to MLS listings and other essential resources) was an acceptable way of doing business. Often their by-laws explicitly stated that blacks, women, Jews, and other groups were not allowed to join.

Barred from joining established REALTOR® organizations in their communities, black real estate brokers in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities created their own boards to support their professional interests. In 1947, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers was created “out of a need to promote fair housing and equal opportunities for African American real estate professionals, consumers and communities.” Calling its members REALTISTS, the association presented a new and vital voice to the real estate industry as a whole.

Although the National Association of REALTORS® welcomed the REALTISTS to the industry and pledged to help the organization along, NAR did nothing to open up membership in local boards of REALTORS® until the 1960’s. It wasn’t until 1961 that NAR finally overturned the policies that prevented black real estate professionals from joining their local boards of REALTORS®. Even after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, some local Boards continued to prevent or discourage black real estate brokers from becoming REALTOR® members.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, a time when NAR opposed fair housing legislation in many states and nationally, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers championed fair housing and their actions encouraged others, including REALTORS®, to support open or fair housing.

Among those working for change within the real estate industry was Baltimore REALTOR® Malcolm “Mal” Sherman. While attending synagogue in the early 1960s, Sherman heard his rabbi assert that if the Holocaust had taught any lesson, it was that one should never ignore injustice done to one’s neighbor. The next day, he announced his intention to buy, sell, and rent to anyone, regardless of race, creed, or color. “This was totally contrary to NAR policy at the time,” Sherman later recalled. In 1953, when he tried to stabilize a neighborhood that was undergoing blockbusting, he appealed to white residents to stay. They rebuffed his plea and refused to do business with him. Despite the setbacks and opposition, Sherman continued to act on his beliefs, hiring African American real estate agents and helping black families find homes in desirable neighborhoods. “”All that black people wanted was the right to buy or rent anyplace, regardless of race, creed or color,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 2001.

At the same time, voices outside the real estate industry were bringing an intense focus on instances of discrimination and unfairness in housing. In Louisville, KY, in 1954, the family of Andrew Wade, an African American Korean War veteran, benefitted from the assistance of Anne and Carl Braden when they sought to purchase a home. Since the Wades were not allowed to buy the home in the traditionally white neighborhood they were interested in, the Bradens purchased it for them and transferred the title to the Wades. The Wades were eventually driven from their home by their neighbors’ threats and acts of violence, while the Bradens were indicted on criminal conspiracy charges. The incident proved to be a touchstone for the open housing drive that was embraced by the Civil Rights movement, became a prime example of the need for local fair housing laws and the national Fair Housing Act.

In 1957, New York City became the first municipality in the United States to enact an ordinance to prohibit housing discrimination, followed by Pittsburgh in 1958. By 1964, scores of towns and cities across the country had followed suit. Open housing demonstrations and marches in Chicago, Seattle, and other cities continued to challenge the policies that restricted who could live where based on race and nationality.

Although the successful passage of a national fair housing law was still a few years away, it was this growing chorus of voices that paved the way to make it possible.

February Feature from NAR:

Fair Housing: Promises of a Century

For REALTORS®, the Fair Housing Act is one of our nation’s most significant laws guiding the real estate industry today. Usually we recognize it with Fair Housing Month, celebrated in April each year. 2018 is different, though, as we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of this major milestone in our nation’s efforts to bring greater equal opportunities in the rights to private property and housing.

As we commemorate this act, it is important to recognize that the way our country views property rights, and who has those rights, has been a struggle dating back at least since Europeans first came to North America.

When he signed the Fair Housing Act into law on April 11, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson noted that the bill would help fulfill “the promises of a century.” He referred to another law enacted just over one hundred years earlier, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which declared “That all persons born in the United States […] are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude […] shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property….”

Despite the language and spirit of the law, the intervening century provided countless examples of laws and events that contradicted this early declaration of equality, including the right to buy, sell and own homes and other real property. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 itself specifically excluded Native Americans and immigrants from its definition of “all persons.” California, Oregon, Minnesota and other states enacted laws restricting or prohibiting immigrants from China and other Asian countries from owning land. Cities and towns across the country often used covenants as part of property deeds to restrict who could purchase and live in a particular place, effectively creating neighborhoods from which African Americans and other groups were banned.

A parade of court decisions and legislation sought to overturn many of these restrictions. In the early 1800’s, individual states began enacting laws granting women the right to own property. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the landmark case Shelley v. Kraemer that racially restrictive covenants on real estate could not be legally enforced. Less than a decade later, New York City became the first locality in the United States to ban discrimination in privately owned housing. In 1962 discrimination in federally funded housing was banned.

But it was the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that became the nation’s definitive law granting everyone equal access to housing, no matter their ethnicity, nationality, religion, handicap, or familial status. As President Johnson plainly explained: “It proclaims that fair housing for all—all human beings who live in this country—is now a part of the American way of life.”

For more information, resources and to get involved, visit www.FairHousing.realtor.

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