THE BLOG
10/11/2013 11:10 am ET

Fair Housing Is More Than Just a Roof Over Your Head

We've all heard about the importance of "location, location, location" in pinpointing a property's value. The location of your home, however, can influence a great deal more. Location can determine your access to jobs, your child's educational opportunities, and even your health. If you can't afford to commute to work or pay for access to better schools, choosing a place to live can become a high stakes decision.

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King understood the relationship between where we live and the opportunities we will have to realize the Dream that is embedded in our Constitution - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Less well known than the March on Washington, Dr. King's "war on slums" and housing discrimination resulted in the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, which was signed into law in the dark week that followed his assassination. The Fair Housing Act stands as an indelible testament to his deep understanding of the realistic factors that shape our individual Dreams and the fundamental promise of our nation.

Today, fair housing protections remain as important as they have ever been. Consider research conducted by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Urban Institute, published in the report, "Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities 2012." In the study, two people contacted housing providers to inquire about a home or rental unit - a white and a minority, both matched in age, gender, financial status and family composition. By comparing their treatment by housing providers, this practical study found that equally qualified minority renters and home buyers were given different information and shown fewer homes and apartments than their white counterparts, increasing their search costs and restricting their housing choices.

The National Council of La Raza carried out a similar study, and published their results in the 2013 report, "Puertas Cerradas: Housing Barriers for Hispanics." Latinos experienced at least one type of "adverse, differential treatment" 58 percent of the time when compared to their white counterparts. Such treatment by the housing agents included unwillingness to schedule an appointment, providing fewer housing options and less information on lenders and other advantageous financial opportunities, quoting higher fees or presenting more extensive application requirements. Further, community-based housing counseling agencies around the country have reported that anti-immigrant vitriol is driving a spike in housing discrimination against Latinos, regardless of whether they are immigrants.

When it comes to eliminating housing discrimination, knowledge is power. The U.S Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have filed and successfully resolved many housing discrimination cases, and most of these cases began because someone said "Enough!" and filed a complaint. Unfortunately, published research, trends in HUD housing complaint data and reports from community-based institutions strongly indicate that Latinos may not be raising their voices in the face of housing discrimination to say, "Ya Basta." This concerning reality spurred NALCAB - National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders - to lead a diverse team of national organizations, community-based institutions and media experts to partner with US HUD to design and launch a national fair housing communications effort. This multi-lingual and multi-ethnic campaign seeks to equip targeted communities with information that helps them to recognize and respond to housing discrimination.

This national campaign launched on October 3 in Washington, D.C. and places a special emphasis on eight cities: Los Angeles, CA.; San Antonio, TX; McAllen, TX; Birmingham, AL; Chicago, IL; Brooklyn, NY; Metro Washington, DC; and Metro Denver, CO. The campaign uses electronic and print media, radio, social media, and local grassroots outreach strategies. To view the television spots, click here. Campaign materials have been developed in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Nepali and Hmong. In addition to working with community-based, anchor institutions in the eight target markets, NALCAB is working with other national organizations and private industry professional to reach diverse communities.

This campaign seeks to advance the march toward Dr. King's Dream. The right to choose where you live is crucial to achieving equality of opportunity. If a landlord refuses to rent to you because your family has children, or you are pregnant - the Fair Housing Act protects you. If your mortgage comes with higher fees or worse terms because of your race or country of origin - the Fair Housing Act protects you. If a housing provider says they don't want to work with you because of your religion - the Fair Housing Act protects you.

With this national media campaign, knowledge of the Fair Housing Act and its protections will become power. So remember a few things:

  1. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status (such as a pregnant woman or a family with children), and disability.
  2. The Fair Housing Act applies to all aspects of the housing market --- rental, sales, mortgage financing, home equity lending, insurance --- all of it.
  3. You don't have to take it! You can file a housing discrimination complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development online at www.hud.gov/fairhousing or by calling (800) 669-9777.

If you are reading this article, you may have already known most, or all of this; but you probably have family or friends or someone you know that doesn't have all the facts. Knowledge is power - pass it along.