Opinion: Fair housing in an unfair world

Ashley Skaria
Baruch College 2019, Macaulay Honors College 2019

Every news cycle contains a headline documenting another case of widespread discrimination.  Whether it be President Trump’s executive order, coined the “Muslim ban”, which barred immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries to the alarming rise in anti-Semitic incidents, it appears that there is an increase in intolerant and prejudicial behavior. Despite this changing culture, it is important to stay vigilant and protect people’s basic rights. The rising discriminatory culture in America can have serious effects on many policy issues, one of them being fair housing.

Fair housing was established by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and is essentially the right to choose housing free from discrimination. The Act was passed in the aftermath of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and was a key issue for the Civil Rights Movement.

The history of fair housing has been contentious and it remains so. The Fair Housing Act attempts to reverse decades of discriminatory federal housing policy, such as redlining and blockbusting, to create fully integrated communities.

According to a Washington Post report, the Trump administration’s proposed $6 billion in cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development will chip away at fair housing enforcement. The past few presidencies, Republican and Democrat administrations alike have shrunk HUD. If the latest cuts are approved, fair housing, one of many HUD initiatives will be severely gutted.

Cuts to HUD will result in the defunding of housing rights organizations and a rollback in federal housing guidelines, leading to increased discrimination. Housing equality is not an “sexy” issue. Most Americans do not pay attention to fair housing. As a result, it is not a high priority for most politicians.

In order to understand the importance of fair housing, one must look back to the pivotal decisions that shaped the future of fair housing in America.

According to ProPublica, when the Fair Housing Act finally passed in 1968, George Romney, Secretary of the Housing and Urban Development, was one of the strongest advocates of the law and began an initiative named “Open Communities” which attempted to withhold grants from communities that violated the Act.

Secretary Romney, from his experience as Governor of Michigan during the violent Detroit Riots of 1967, believed that integrated communities were key to reversing decades of discriminatory federal housing policy that left black Americans in poor, suffering cities. “Equal opportunity for all Americans in housing and education is essential if we are going to keep our nation from being torn apart,” Secretary Romney said.

However, when President Nixon began to receive complaints from his white supporters in the South and North, he abruptly stopped the initiative. According to a ProPublica investigation, due to Nixon’s ambivalence to tackle fair housing head on, a whole line of presidents have failed to use the billions in housing grants to fight segregation.

At one point, fair housing mattered. It is still important as housing plays a major role in defining a person’s quality of life and influences our education, worldview, food quality, security, privacy, and social capital.

 According to the Economic Policy Institute, African Americans in segregated neighborhoods face higher unemployment rates, poorer health care and inferior schools. Racial segregation concentrates poverty. Crime is also higher in these neighborhoods.

In uncertain and troubling times, we stand by issues that represent the best in us. Many feel helpless in our culture of discrimination and bigotry.  Fair housing is one issue where we can fight back.

Government must be pushed to create integrated neighborhoods and to punishing landlords and real estate agents that turn away potential owners because of their race. Fair housing initiatives further the equality and justice many Americans believe in.

As Elizabeth Julian, a former senior HUD  states, “The failures of fair housing are not just by HUD but by the country.”

Let us no longer turn our backs on people who need our help and remember that even in today’s vicious and intolerant climate, there are still issues that need our attention and support.

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