The Fair Housing ActThe Civil Rights Act of 1866 states that all persons born in the United States are citizens regardless of their race, color, or previous condition and as citizens can make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real estate and personal property. While this act was never enforced on the local, state or national level a second act, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawed segregation in public schools and public places and made it illegal to segregate people of different races in schools, housing, or hiring. A third act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. This section is also referred to as the Fair Housing Act. This act is enforced on the local, state, and national level with the aid of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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. Posted by Jolenta Averill on


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Bravo, Jolenta! Thank you for raising social awareness of institutional racism. The city of Madison and Dane county are historically guilty of racial and ethnic "steering". The Greenbush and south Park Street neighborhoods, the Towns of Madison and Blooming Grove are prime examples. First-hand accounts from local elderly people of color relate stories of being "moved" or "allowed to move" by realtors and banks, from south Madison to Blooming Grove. One gentlemen recounted being thrilled to be able to go for a walk in his new neighborhood. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before squad cars came from all directions in response to a resident complaint of a "black" man in the neighborhood. Luckily he was able to verify himself as a resident. So much for the Welcome Wagon!

Another element of institutional racism is "white privilege" and its' everyday realities. Blatant ignorance of "white privilege" by whites, fuels racial misconceptions and furthers the struggle toward unity. Apathy and ignorance can be overcome only by educating and and an assertive effort to be a "light of love" in this world.

Thanks, Jolenta for addressing this issue on such an important day!

Posted by Jim on Monday, January 18th, 2010 at 9:10pm

MLK Day is always a great reminder of what so many have fought for and are still fighting for. I recently read this article that points out that people with disabilities still have to bring forth lawsuits in some instances to get fair housing.

It's not nearly as wide spread as it used to be, but it's still there.

Posted by underground homes on Thursday, January 21st, 2010 at 1:21pm

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