Part of the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s was an act finally prohibiting discrimination against potential renters and homebuyers on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. It also requires localities to “affirmatively” further residential integration. In 1988, Congress amended the act to bar discrimination on the basis of disability or familial status as well. Yet research shows that housing discrimination against blacks, Latinos, and families with children is still widespread. In 2016, there were 28,281 complaints to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and local fair housing organizations about housing discrimination. Yet this number is likely far smaller than the actual number of discriminatory instances, thanks to under-reporting among racial and religious minorities. Experiments in which an otherwise identical white and minority tester apply for a mortgage or an apartment, the white tester was favored about half of the time.
Localities have arguably failed still more grossly in affirmatively furthering fair housing. Low-density zoning and resistance to affordable housing development in higher-income neighborhoods has created a starkly unequal landscape. The New Jersey Supreme Court famously found the town of Mount Laurel guilty of discriminating against low-income and minority households by zoning exclusively for single-family homes on large lots. The state has since set affordable housing obligations for its municipalities. But there was no national policy to address exclusionary tactics until 2015, when HUD began requiring localities that receive federal money to analyze its housing occupancy by race and make plans to correct any bias. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule allows HUD to withhold federal money if localities fail to comply.
Photo: Fair housing protest in Seattle, Washington, 1964. Records of the Office of the Mayor, Series 5210-01, Seattle Municipal Archives.
Shanti Abedin et al. “The Case for Fair Housing: 2017 Fair Housing Trends Report.” National Fair Housing Alliance, April 2017.
Margery Turner et al. “Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities.” United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research, June 2013, https://www.huduser.gov/portal/Publications/pdf/HUD-514_HDS2012_execsumm.pdf