What is Fair Housing and why do we dedicate a whole month to recognizing it? Well, the formation of HUD, the US Development of Housing and Urban Development in 1965 by President John F Kennedy, started the movement for fair and equal housing laws to protect all US citizens. He felt that a restructuring was needed in our housing policies that dated back to the 1937 U.S. Housing Act, and waged battles with Republicans and Southern Democrats who opposed the formation of an agency. Sadly JFK never saw it come to fruition and it wasn’t until after his assassination that Congress approved the plan. President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill to form HUD with Robert C. Weaver, the first African-American to be appointed to a Cabinet position, at the helm.
With HUD under way, the administration sought a law that would prohibit discrimination in the sale and rental of housing in the U.S. The Supreme Court in 1948 had ruled that courts could not enforce racial covenants in land deeds, but discriminatory housing practices still abounded. I do remember back during the Vietnam War that many African American and Hispanic soldiers killed during the war had families who were discriminated against when seeking housing because of their ethnic origins. This prompted President Johnson to summon a group of civil rights advocates to the White House to address the country’s discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. This group helped Johnson sign a message to Congress calling for the enactment of the “first federal law against discrimination in the sale and rental of housing in the United States of America.” Among those in attendance was civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is amazing to me that only 50 years ago our congress would not pass the bill. Another attempt in 1967 failed, despite intense lobbying from the NAACP, the GI Forum and National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. Senators Edward Brooke and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts issued passionate pleas to pass the bill. Brooke even related his own experience of returning from the war and, because of his African-American heritage, being denied housing opportunities. Finally, after Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, Johnson convinced Congress to approve the bill, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968 or Open Housing Act of 1968. The Act was signed into law seven days later. President Johnson proclaimed that, “fair housing for all—all human beings who live in this country—is now a part of the American way of life.”
Discrimination in every aspect of our lives still exists today but at least this very important bill has made it illegal to discriminate as it relates to obtaining housing in our country. The FHA resonates much the same as it did in 1968, but has been expanded to prohibit discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability). FHA not only applies to conventional housing, but Rural Development as well.
A fight worth fighting and implementing into our great “melting pot” of a free country!