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Fair Housing Act April 11, 1968, Overcoming the Legacy of Residential Segregation #fairhousing50

Fair housing is a bedrock civil rights protection, crucial to our nation’s core values of equal opportunity, human dignity, and just democracy for all. A strong and effective Fair Housing Act must continue to help move our country beyond a legacy of segregation and discrimination and toward opportunity for all. The Act reflects the commonsense idea that unjustified obstacles to diverse, prosperous communities should fall in favor of inclusive approaches that work for everyone. The Act has helped free many communities from discrimination and connect millions of residents to opportunity. Due to a variety of factors – some influenced by government, some not – many neighborhoods and communities do not reflect the diversity of our nation. Racial and ethnic discrimination in housing has been practiced by individuals, municipalities, states, and by the federal government. The role of the federal government was perhaps the most powerful force in creating and perpetuating racially segregated communities through housing and economic policies since the New Deal and before. In the face of deeply entrenched patterns of residential segregation and exclusion, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act to provide for fair housing throughout the nation on April 11, 1968, after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. days earlier on April 4.

Congress and the courts recognize comprehensive legislation is needed to target both intentional discrimination and seemingly neutral policies that have unjustified discriminatory impacts based on race, color, or national origin. Each form of discrimination is instrumental in creating and perpetuating the entrenched residential segregation the Act seeks to eliminate. The Fair Housing Act’s prohibition of unjustified disparate impact remains a powerful and necessary tool for dismantling discriminatory practices and barriers to equal opportunities on a community-wide basis. While public attitudes towards residential segregation have improved in important respects, racial and ethnic isolation continues to persist in ways that make the disparate impact inquiry necessary. Residential isolation has effects across generations that continue to limit the opportunities available to our children and grandchildren. Social science evidence confirms segregation is harmful and integration is beneficial to educational achievement, access to employment, personal, public, and environmental health, park access, and other keys to a fulfilling life.

Congress, the courts, and we the people recognize the disparate impact standard of discrimination plays an important role in uncovering discriminatory intent, and permits people to counteract unconscious prejudices, disguised animus, and implicit bias that escape easy classification as intentional discrimination. Without the disparate impact analysis, government and others would be able to pursue cleverly concealed, intentionally discriminatory acts and policies, as well as seemingly neutral policies no matter how harsh the impact, how unjustified the action, and how readily available the non-discriminatory alternatives. The adverse consequences would cause harm for generations. The Fair Housing Act demands that we remain conscious of the long-term legacy and effects of historical patterns of housing segregation..

Read the “friend of the court” brief focusing on the discriminatory impact inquiry and segregated neighborhoods where many people live, isolated by race, ethnicity, and income from high-performing public schools, good jobs, safe parks and streets, a clean, healthy environment, and reliable public services. Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other civil rights advocates, including The City Project, filed the brief before the US Supreme Court in the case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project in 2015. The Court held that the Fair Housing Act prohibits unjustified discriminatory impact discrimination, as well as intentional discrimination.

See the moving video on the fight for fair housing for all by our colleagues and friends at NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc.

The civil rights struggle continues to protect equal opportunity, human dignity, and just democracy for all in and out of court.

Residential isolation today reflects the legacy of racial and ethnic housing restrictions.

The South Gate home of former California State Assembly member and city councilman Hector De La Torre includes this deed restriction.

See Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White (2005) and Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (2013).