Federal Fair Housing Act Turns 50


Federal Fair Housing Act

President Lyndon Johnson signed the federal Fair Housing Act in to law on April 11, 1968. The Act prohibits discrimination based on specified protected classes in the sale, rental, financing of residential housing. This significance of this historic legislation is captured in President Johnson’s remarks following his signature of the Act into law:

I do not exaggerate when I say that the proudest moments of my Presidency have been times such as this when I have signed into law the promises of a century. I shall never forget that it was more than 100 years ago when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation–but it was a proclamation; it was not a fact. In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we affirmed through law that men equal under God are also equal when they seek a job, when they go to get a meal in a restaurant, or when they seek lodging for the night in any State in the Union. ** In the Civil Rights Act of 1965, we affirmed through law for every citizen in this land the most basic right of democracy–the right of a citizen to vote in an election in his country. ** Now, with this bill, the voice of justice speaks again. It proclaims that fair housing for all–all human beings who live in this country–is now a part of the American way of life.

Today many professionals only think of the Act in the context of a continuing education course or a problem that is no longer an issue. Unfortunately, housing discrimination continues to be a very real problem for members of protected classes.

In the time since the Act became law, courts have dealt with:

  • Redlining
  • Blockbusting
  • Exclusionary zoning

Most recently, unintentional discrimination disparately impacted a member of a protected class.  Several years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that certain actions relating to housing, although unintentional, still have the impact of discrimination. An example is the denial of rental housing to convicted felons. A larger proportion of citizens may be from a protected class. However, the flat-out denial of housing based on a conviction, without consideration of other factors, has the disparate impact of discriminating against those in a protected class.

In 2012, HUD commissioned a study on fair housing and determined that discrimination still exists, it is just subtler than when the Act first became law. The study partly relied on testers where a white and minority tester, equally qualified, attempted to make appointments, visit or inspect homes for rent. The study concluded Black, Hispanic, and Asian renters were told about fewer housing units than equally qualified white renters.

Still yet, there are other forms of discrimination that exist and are largely legal. For example, a landlord can deny housing based on the source of a tenant’s income, effectively denying housing to low income families. Many of whom are also members of a protected class. Nonetheless, through education and enforcement, the Department of Housing and Urban Development continues its steady progress to end housing discrimination.

Informed licensed real estate professionals are an essential part of the central goal of the Fair Housing Act to eliminate housing discrimination and achieve strong and diverse communities. When reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Act, use time to reflect and redouble your commitment to equal and fair housing for all. Pay close attention in those continuing education courses and find ways you too can be a part in eradicating housing discrimination. With each professional doing their part, barriers will come down and progress will continue to be made. In the words of President Johnson, “fair housing for all–all human beings who live in this country.”

Shortly thereafter the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) departments and the Office of Equal Housing Opportunity were created. Since that time, federal offices along with state agencies and private organizations have worked to eliminate housing discrimination with the goal of achieving strong and diverse communities.

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