Significance of the Fair Housing Act on its 50th Anniversary

Industry News,

By Ken Szymanski

Growing up in the 1960’s like I did, you had to be living under a rock not to be affected by the ultra-compelling and ultra-unfair conditions of racial discrimination and racial segregation in U.S. cities. The cause of those who fought against these inequities was gripping and undeniable – the folks who stood up were on the right side of the issue, even at a time when not many were willing to stand up.Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. And the Federal Fair Housing Act was enacted on April 11, 1968 – one week later. No coincidence. We celebrate April as Fair Housing Month every year; here in 2018, we observe, celebrate, and re-focus on the spirit and complex compliance aspects of the Act for its 50th Anniversary. Today, Fair Housing law and debates are much more complex than back in the ‘60’s, as terms like “disparate impact”, “emotional support animals”, “transgender rights”, “reasonable accommodation of disabilities”, “source of income” and others were pretty much unheard of 50 years ago. Over the years, society has become more multifaceted, but the bedrock principle of unfair treatment and being denied shelter for the wrong reasons resonates as strongly as ever today.

I spent a fair amount of my formal training studying neighborhood segregation and the dynamics of racial change in American cities. These dynamics – like it or not – are still very much in play here in Charlotte and elsewhere. Here are key quotes from researchers and academicians from 50 years ago and see if you agree:

“Racial segregation (or ghettoization) is ‘the urban problem,’ and some modification of historic patterns of racial segregation in metropolitan housing is necessary to achieve reasonably efficient solutions to an ever increasing array of related problems.”

– John F. Kain

“Residential segregation prevails regardless of the relative economic status of the white and Negro residents. It occurs regardless of the character of local laws and policies, and regardless of the extent of other forms of segregation or discrimination.”

– Karl and Alma Taeuber

Explaining Urban Residential Segregation:
  • Poverty
  • Legal Barriers
  • Social Incompatibility
  • Discriminatory Real Estate Practices
  • Discriminatory Banking Practices
  • Redlining
  • Disinvestment
  • White Flight
  • Preference for the Group
  • Land Use Barriers/Buffers

More recently, there is this bit of research:

“We need to be aware that segregation is not going away by itself. And that it hasn’t been solved by the growth of the black middle-class, the softening of white attitudes on race, or the laws that prohibit racial discrimination in housing. These are all factors that might have had a positive effect on segregation, and the assumption has been that they must have had an effect. But it’s very important to realize that they have not.” – Dr. John Logan in 2011 examining 2010 Census data in every metropolitan area of the USA

So, let’s think back to 1968 and recall not only the inspiring leadership of Dr. King, but also that of NAACP leader Roy Wilkens, Urban League leader Whitney Young, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and many others. And think not only of urban segregation, but also related matters of substandard housing, overcrowding, and the limited buying power of low wages. We have come a long way. In my (somewhat lengthy) career, I’ve got to witness progress first-hand in the low-income neighborhoods of San Antonio, TX; Toledo, OH; Nashville, TN; and Albany, NY. It’s all about respect and human dignity.

As housing providers and as a society, we still have a long way to go with equal housing opportunity.

Ken Szymanski has been in the housing and community development fields for 42 years, including 31 years in Charlotte. His formal training is in city planning, land economics, and public administration. He is executive director of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association.