The tumultuous history of the Fair Housing Act
History of Fair Housing
The Fair Housing Act, intended as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was signed into law in April of 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibiting discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, or sex.
Arising from the historic civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and surrounded by the difficulties amid the war in Vietnam, it was a long and difficult journey to get the legislation enacted.
During the early 20th century, race-based housing patterns were prevalent in the United States and, even while a growing number of Black American and Hispanic members of the armed forces fought and died in Vietnam, their families were having trouble renting and purchasing homes because of their race or national origin. Black Americans were systematically deprived of sufficient, quality housing because they were routinely and openly excluded from living in certain areas. Discrimination, intimidation, exclusion and even violence segregated and relegated Black people to low-income areas with poor quality housing.
In his role as a Civil Rights leader, Dr. King recognized that this reality was a core component of racial injustice in the United States and decided to act. From 1965 to 1966, Dr. King co-led the Chicago Freedom Movement, a campaign which sought to challenge discrimination in employment, education, and housing in Chicago. Because of his efforts, the Chicago Housing Authority agreed to build public housing in white middle-class areas and the Mortgage Bankers Association promised to stop discriminatory lending policies. Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the G.I. Forum, and the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing lobbied for new fair housing legislation to be passed on a national level.
The new Civil Rights bill passed the Senate by a very slim margin in early April 1968, but it was expected to be significantly weakened by the House of Representatives. However, on April 4, the day of the Senate Vote, Dr. King was assassinated. Amid the public outrage following the death of Dr. King, President Johnson put increased pressure on Congress to pass the new civil rights legislation to honor his life and legacy.
Despite its passage and subsequent efforts to strengthen the Fair Housing Act, housing advocates believe that the law, and Dr. King’s legacy, are in danger.
Despite progress, we still face many of the same problems that King fought for during his time in Chicago.
Poor living conditions, slum lords, unfair housing, and a lack of affordability continue to plague people searching for a home. According to a 2018 article in The Atlantic, since enactment of the law, serious integration efforts on the federal level have been curbed and America is still segregated 50 years later.
Access to safe and affordable housing is a right, not a privilege. It is important to continue to support fair housing work across the board by educating renters and property owners on Fair Housing requirements and advocating for better fair housing laws and regulations.