MLK Day: The Fair Housing Act & Racial Segregation in U.S. housing todayPosted by Jolenta Averill, Broker on Monday, January 18th, 2010 at 11:56am.
Why then is there still seemingly so much racial segregation in neighborhoods throughout the United States? There are three leading theories:
1.) the phenomenon is really self–segregation, the result of the preferences of different ethnic groups to live in segregated neighborhoods
2.) poverty, aided by the inertia, perpetuates segregation
3.) the decline of blatant discrimination of the past has revealed pervasive institutional racism
While the second and third theories seem the most plausible, it is the third that interests me most from the standpoint of being a real estate practitioner. Force of habit with regards to discriminatory practices, such as steering and redlining, not only take time to eradicate but have also become more subtle and therefore, in many ways, harder to root out. For example, before the Fair Housing Act many minorities experienced blatantly racist neighborhood signs or signs at real estate companies explicitly saying they would not accept certain minorities as clients. However, after the Fair Housing Act, steering took on a more subtle role in which some real estate practitioners were deceptive or lied outright in order to make it harder for some to learn about or renting or buying homes in certain neighborhoods. Minorities were guided or “steered” into neighborhoods that possessed certain characteristics of income and race. Redlining is related to steering because it entails denying financial support and services to neighborhoods based on race, ethnicity, or economic status. Rather than subtly steering individual families towards certain areas or only giving them information on certain racial areas, redlining was even an even more blatant - but legally tolerated - criteria for financial institutions to decide where to invest. Whereas today racially mixed neighborhoods are no longer outlined on maps and distributed to institutions, the public domain may still tend to ignore poor neighborhoods by denying basic public services. In other words, discrimination is alive and well today because it is still practiced, albeit more subtly. It really boils down to each and every real estate agent, therefore, scrutinizing their actions on a daily basis to ensure that equal access to information and housing is being provided to all consumers they come in contact with. One researcher, Diana Pearce, has written that "in consumers’ eyes, real estate agents (compared to bankers or builders, for example) are frequently seen as the most expert in nearly every aspect of decision-making involved in buying a house. As a group they are not only experts, they also control access to housing areas. They are, or can be, community gatekeepers…and a crucial aspect of the gatekeeper role is the screening of potential residents."
As we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King today and his epic struggle to advance equal rights for all in the United States, I just wanted to remind everyone that the Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned the following types of discrimination:
1. Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin. People with disabilities and families with children were added to the list of protected classes by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.
2. Discrimination against a person in the terms, conditions or privilege of the sale or rental of a dwelling.
3. Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference of discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin (and, as of 1988, people with disabilities and families with children.)
4. Coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person's enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons or retaliating against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights.
As a real estate professional I take my responsibility to uphold fair housing laws very seriously each and every day. If you or someone you know has experienced discrimination in housing, please know that this is illegal and they can and should file a fair housing complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Let's end housing discrimination in the United States once and for all.
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Jolenta Averill, Principal
Lake & City Homes Realty