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In the United States, the fair housing (also open housing) policies date largely from the 1960s. Originally, the terms fair housing and open housing came from a political movement of the time to outlaw discrimination in the rental or purchase of homes and a broad range of other housing-related transactions, such as advertising, mortgage lending, homeowner's insurance and zoning. Later, the same language was used in laws. In April 1968, at the urging of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Congress passed the federal Fair Housing Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619, penalties for violation at 42 U.S.C. 3631), Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, only one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The primary purpose of the Fair Housing Law of 1968 is to protect the buyer/renter of a dwelling from seller/landlord discrimination. Its primary prohibition makes it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person's inclusion in a protected class. The goal is a unitary housing market in which a person's background (as opposed to financial resources) does not arbitrarily restrict access. Calls for open housing were issued early in the twentieth century, but it was not until after World War II that concerted efforts to achieve it were undertaken.
While the Civil Rights Act of 1866 included language that could be construed as creating a fair housing policy, no federal enforcement provisions were given. In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that racially restrictive covenants in real estate were unenforceable in court.
In the years following World War II, African Americans found themselves confronted with increasing patterns of housing segregation. They were excluded from the suburbs and the real-estate industry, which severely restricted educational and economic opportunities. In 1955, William Byron Rumford, the first black to serve in the California State Legislature, introduced a fair-housing bill outlawing housing discrimination on the basis of race.
In 1963, California Legislature passed the Rumford Fair Housing Act which outlawed restrictive covenants and the refusal to rent or sell property on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, or physical disability.
In reaction to the law, a well-funded coalition of realtors and landlords was determined to protect white neighborhoods and property values. They immediately began to campaign for a referendum that would amend the state Constitution to protect property owners' ability to deny minorities equal access to housing. Known as Proposition 14, it was passed by 65 percent of the voters.
In 1966, the California State Supreme Court, in Mulkey v. Reitman, ruled that Proposition 14 violated the State Constitution's provisions for equal protection and due process.
In 1967, in Reitman v. Mulkey, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the California Supreme Court and ruled that Proposition 14 had violated the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) introduced meaningful federal enforcement mechanisms. It outlawed:
When the Fair Housing Act was first enacted, it prohibited discrimination only on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In 1988, disability and familial status (the presence or anticipated presence of children under 18 in a household) were added (further codified in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). In certain circumstances, the law allows limited exceptions for discrimination based on sex, religion, or familial status.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is the federal executive department with the statutory authority to administer and enforce the Fair Housing Act. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has delegated fair housing enforcement and compliance activities to HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) and HUD's Office of General Counsel. FHEO is one of the United States' largest federal civil rights agencies. It has a staff of more than 600 people located in 54 offices around the United States. As of May 2009, the head of FHEO is Assistant Secretary of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John D. Trasviña, whose appointment was confirmed on May 1, 2009.
Individuals who believe they have experienced housing discrimination can file a complaint with FHEO at no charge. FHEO funds and has working agreements with many state and local governmental agencies where "substantially equivalent" fair housing laws are in place. Under these agreements, FHEO refers complaints to the state or locality where the alleged incident occurred, and those agencies investigate and process the case instead of FHEO. This is known as FHEO's Fair Housing Assistance Program (or "FHAP").
There is also a network of private, non-profit fair housing advocacy organizations throughout the country. Some are funded by FHEO's Fair Housing Initiatives Program (or "FHIP"), and some operate with private donations or grants from other sources.
Victims of housing discrimination need not go through HUD or any other governmental agency to pursue their rights, however. The Fair Housing Act confers jurisdiction to hear cases on federal district courts. The United States Department of Justice also has jurisdiction to file cases on behalf of the United States where there is a pattern and practice of discrimination or where HUD has found discrimination in a case and either party elects to go to federal court instead of continuing in the HUD administrative process.
The Fair Housing Act applies to landlords renting or leasing space in their primary residence only if the residence contains living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by three or more other families living independently of each other, such as an owner-occupied rooming house.
The Fair Housing Act has been strengthened since its adoption in 1968, but enforcement continues to be a concern among housing advocates. According to a 2010 evaluation of Analysis of Impediments (AI) reports done by the General Accountability Office, enforcement is particularly inconsistent across local jurisdictions. A 2013 evaluation of the AI implementation process in Buffalo, NY revealed that the City had made little progress in implementing the action plan from its AI report over an eight year period. This was an outgrowth of local funding constraints, limited staff capacity, ambiguous HUD rules for AI reporting, and a lack of political will to pursue fair housing in Buffalo. In light of these findings, the authors of the evaluation recommended that HUD: mandate timeframes for AI implementation, require AI updates at regular intervals, and more clearly specify the format and content of AI reports. The authors of the evaluation also recommended that HUD require jurisdictions to include evaluation plans in their AI reports and measure outcomes from the implementation of AI action plans.
Libertarians argue that nobody has the right to buy something that the owner does not wish to sell, and that Fair Housing attacks the right of an owner to decide to whom they would rent or sell their property. The arguing point against this is that the right to property is a guaranteed right in the US Constitution under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and this act was created to maintain that right.