April 11, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in the riotous aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The landmark legislation aimed to ensure equal housing opportunities regardless of race, religion or national origin. Gender, disability, and family status were added soon afterward.
As we commemorate the anniversary, we can mark our progress from the days of Caucasian covenants in deeds, racially segregated public housing, and steering of particular groups into distinct neighborhoods. Today’s federal laws call for equality and justice, and criminalize discrimination. We’ve come a long way.
Or have we? The National Fair Housing Alliance estimates that more than 4 million instances of housing discrimination happen annually in the U.S. rental market alone. Of the complaints reported in 2016, 55 percent were based on disability, 19 percent on race, 9 percent on family status and 6 percent on gender.
This year, honor the Act’s milestone anniversary, but then let’s turn our attention to bolstering its objective yet again. A renewed commitment to equal housing opportunities for all seems as urgent as ever in the context of growing hostility between people separated by politics, national origin, income and other variables. There’s heightened risk of insidious, subtle, subversion.
If you’re involved in housing deals or know someone who is, remember that both parties have legal rights and responsibilities.
For the home seller or landlord: You may not discriminate against protected classes in the sale, or rental of property, or deny that housing is available. Your real estate agent is also bound by law not to discriminate.
For the home seeker: You have the right to expect that housing opportunities will be available, regardless of your race, color, religion, gender, handicap, familial status, or national origin. Neighborhoods or locations should be available to you without restriction. Real estate agents, mortgage lenders, and other professionals must give you equal service. You have rights to reasonable accommodation of disabilities, and to be free of harassment or intimidation in exercising your rights to fair housing.
If you experience or witness injustice, complaints can be made to the local Board of Realtors, the MA Commission on Discrimination, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These agencies help people every day, still.
On a future anniversary of the Fair Housing Act when communities are truly open, welcoming, and accessible for all, then – inclusively – we’ll celebrate. The more, the merrier.
Heidi Paek is an Ipswich homeowner and REALTOR® at Keller Williams Realty.