The Work of the Fair Housing Act Is Not Yet Complete

HousingDiscrimination_blogpic_newHomeownership is a cornerstone of the American Dream and often a doorway to greater opportunity. The family that is able to buy or rent in a neighborhood with a thriving local economy is undoubtedly more likely to find the kinds of quality, well-paying jobs that will help them move up the economic ladder. Children who are able to attend good school systems have a greater chance of moving on to higher education and achieving their professional dreams. Choosing where to settle down is a decision with tremendous implications for a family’s future.

Unfortunately, not everybody is given a fair shot at living in the communities of their choice. The Fair Housing Act, signed into law more than 45 years ago to end discriminatory housing practices, has been an essential safeguard for Latino families who would otherwise have been denied equal access to housing. Yet housing discrimination persists at alarming rates—more than three million cases every year. NCLR research shows that even in communities with a longstanding Latino presence, such as San Antonio, housing discrimination is still an issue that Latinos face on a regular basis.

Having just gone through a housing crisis that wiped away generations of wealth from communities of color who were disproportionately targeted with predatory lending practices, it is clear the Fair Housing Act is needed now more than ever. However, a challenge in the Supreme Court could irrevocably alter this essential legislation for the worse. Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case that will determine whether the use of disparate impact within the Fair Housing Act can continue to protect against discriminatory housing policies.

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Family in front of houseAs it stands, disparate impact prohibits housing policies that result in discrimination, regardless of intention. For example, when a community passes a local ordinance outlawing families larger than four people to sign a rental lease, the result is an unintentional limitation on rental options for large families—families who may be living with multiple generations under one roof or have relatives visiting from their home countries for extended periods of time. These types of policies, which enable racial exclusion to persist, are kept at bay by provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

If our nation is to live up to its highest principles of fairness, justice, and opportunity, then the Supreme Court cannot chip away at the critical protections offered under the Fair Housing Act. If we allow these discriminatory policies to persist, we will forever have a nation in which people who make the same incomes, have the same financial profiles, and have the same credit scores, will not achieve the same results—simply because housing service providers can employ separate but unequal systems that perpetuate discrimination. Discrimination, even if it is unintentional, must be eradicated in order to foster more diverse and inclusive communities that empower Americans to seek out opportunity and fulfill the American Dream.

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