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Housing Discrimination Lives on in the Present

Pamela Atwood, Director of Housing Policy

With the recent MLK day weekend, those of us at the Coalition are reflecting on his message of equality and justice, especially in regards to housing quality and access. With more and more news of housing discrimination and the fallout and tragedy of systemic neglect of public housing, juxtaposed against the recent proposed changes from HUD to the Fair Housing Act, where are we in terms of tackling systemic housing segregation and inequities in wealth?

Dr. King saw housing as a fundamental part of equality. He called for decent and safe housing for all people, regardless of skin color. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed a week after his assassination, with lawmakers forced to act on the stark realizations and actions Dr. King called for. At that time, Congress realized that making discrimination illegal as part of the Civil Rights Act was not enough. Housing segregation and inequities come to exist due to policy decisions. Policy is needed to correct the situation.

At the time lawmakers cited statistics that connected housing segregation patterns to ongoing discriminatory practices. Today those patterns persist. In fact, some areas of inquality are greater now than they were when such discrimination was legal, such as black homeownership, which stands at 41.8%, lower than it was in 1968, a 30% difference compared to white Americans. 

Today we see more and more research with evidence linking housing to social outcomes. We see reporting of the conditions and practices people live with and experience today resulting from years of neglect of these demographic patterns.

The proposed changes from HUD remove race and racial disparities from HUD’s definition of “fair housing,” minimalizing what is meant by “fair housing” choices. The Fair Housing Act requires local governments to take actions that undo historic patterns of segregation and other types of discrimination, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities. The proposed changes would reverse the landmark 2015 regulation providing jurisdictions and public housing authorities guidance and tools to identify and address harmful patterns of segregation, discriminatory practices, and disinvestment. That regulation, known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule, resulted from years of public input. While it is valid to examine the current implementation on local levels and ask whether those activities are having the desired effects or just moving inequality around from place to place, the reality is that housing choice is not yet “fair,” and the policies outlined in the 2015 regulations sought to continue Dr. King’s work. 

Housing discrimination persists and the need for polices to address this reality are still necessary. At a time when the housing crisis disproportionately impacts low-income people of color, the racial wealth gap grows, and people with disabilities struggle to find accessible homes, the promise and obligations of the Fair Housing Act are more important than ever. To learn more and submit comments on fair housing, visit Fight for Housing Justice.

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