A History of Fair Housing: The Pursuit of Equality in Homeownership

The pursuit of equality in homeownership is a long and ongoing battle that has been fought in the United States for centuries. From our country’s earliest days, people have recognized the importance of having a safe and secure place to call home. From creating generational wealth through property ownership to the primal need for security, a home is a human right.

In the years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, much progress has been made in ensuring that all Americans have access to quality housing. This article will explore the history of fair housing and what we can do to continue fighting for equal access to homeownership.

What is Fair Housing?

The Fair Housing Act defines fair housing as the right to buy, sell, lease or rent any home without discrimination. This includes protections against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status.

A History of Unfair Treatment

The history of “fair” housing in the United States can be traced back to the early days of our country. In 1790, congress passed the first law regarding discrimination in property ownership. Unfortunately, it was not an entirely positive one. The law was called the Naturalization Act, and it created a path for white immigrants to gain citizenship and own land, but it also barred non-white immigrants from owning land in the United States.

In 1934 the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established to increase the amount of available housing for Americans. However, the FHA focused primarily on suburban neighborhoods with predominantly white populations while denying loans to African American and other non-white communities. This state-sponsored discrimination was justified by listing mostly non-white neighborhoods as “hazardous for investment.” This practice became known as “redlining” and is one of the primary causes of the socioeconomic disparity between inner-city housing and suburban developments.

But the unfair treatment didn’t end there. Lenders discovered they could instead exploit the underserved communities they created by granting loans in the previously “hazardous for investment” communities, albeit at massively inflated rates, leading to more financial instability and, often, foreclosure. This practice continued for decades until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Making Progress

Over the years, additional laws were enacted to protect people from discrimination based on their race or ethnicity. However, it wasn’t until 1968 that congress passed a comprehensive law that prohibits discrimination in all areas of housing. Thanks to the tireless efforts and sacrifices of the Civil Rights Movement, including the invaluable contributions of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Edward Brooke, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, and it remains one of the most critical pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. It also requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Additionally, the Fair Housing Act requires that all new multifamily buildings be designed and constructed to be accessible to people with disabilities.

In addition to federal laws, many states also have their own fair housing laws that provide additional protection for residents. For example, California’s anti-discrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, disability, or age.

Who Enforces Fair Housing Requirements?

The Fair Housing Act is enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD investigates complaints of housing discrimination and takes action to enforce the law. Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against can file a complaint with HUD.

Fair Housing Amendments

Since its enactment, the Fair Housing Act has been amended several times to expand its protections and make it more effective.

  • In 1974, congress added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes.
  • In 1988, congress extended protection against discrimination against people with disabilities, including chronic illnesses like AIDS.
  • In 1991, congress added protections for first occupancy for new multifamily units to protect the hearing-impaired and vision-impaired.

There are many classes of people who are protected by fair housing. Most are familiar with the protections against racial discrimination, but ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, and disability are also protected. Families with children and pregnant women have specific protections under the law as well. Fair housing laws help ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity for homeownership.

Fair Housing Resources

There are many resources available to help people understand their fair housing rights and pursue justice if they have been discriminated against. The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for fair housing rights nationwide. NFHA provides information about fair housing laws and helps people file complaints against landlords or homeowners associations who have violated their rights.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against, it is vital to contact HUD or NFHA as soon as possible. They can help you understand your rights and guide you through the complaint process. Pursuing justice for housing discrimination can be difficult. Often people facing discrimination choose to accept their mistreatment for fear of backlash or due to economic reasons like not being able to afford a lawyer or taking time off of work. But standing up for your rights is essential. These resources exist to help anyone facing discrimination fight for their rights regardless of status or cost. With the help of organizations like NFHA, we can create a more equal society where everyone has access to safe and affordable housing along with the resources to protect that access.

How On Q Financial, Inc. Promotes Equality

It’s one thing to talk about fair housing, but lenders have a special responsibility to ensure equality when it comes to mortgage lending. We believe the dream of homeownership is inclusive, so we take it a step further.

Aside from offering applications and mortgage documents in multiple languages, including Spanish and Simplified Chinese, we prioritize underserved communities through varied product offerings. By providing resources such as mortgage education, down payment assistance, or offering Federal Housing Administration (FHA) programs, lenders like On Q Financial, Inc. maximize their community engagement and help marginalized communities achieve their dream of homeownership.

While laws and regulations exist to curtail discrimination, lenders must go beyond those regulations to guarantee they serve their community equitably.

More Work to be Done

Over the years, the Fair Housing Act has helped millions of Americans gain access to quality housing. However, there is still more work to be done. Different versions of redlining still exist. As recently as 2008, lenders still targeted minority communities for subprime loans. We must continue fighting for equal access to homeownership for all Americans. Together, we can ensure that everyone has a safe and secure place to call home.

Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams of homeownership. Fair Housing protections exist so that everyone has a fair chance to own a home. Contact us today if you’re ready to take the first steps. We’re prepared to help you with even more resources and guidance!