Row of red brick terraced houses fair housing
Fair Housing

What is the Fair Housing Act?

Americans are talking and thinking about racial equality more than ever these days. While most of us understand there is a significant racial gap in wealth, income and many other facets of American life, we sometimes forget why those disparities exist and how the country has attempted to address them.

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Americans are talking and thinking about racial equality more than ever these days. While most of us understand there is a significant racial gap in wealth, income and many other factors in American life, we sometimes forget why those disparities exist and how the country has attempted to address them.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a key part of the Civil Rights Act group of bills. The reason for it struck the heart of equality — access to home ownership and the right to determine where you live is how people build wealth, access their jobs and education and become contributing members of their communities.

family at home

Prior to this act, these endeavors were essentially denied to people based on race. For decades, minority groups were denied the right to buy in certain neighborhoods. When they managed to buy at all, they were given expensive loans that by design made it difficult to accrue equity. Wealth creation through the home equity accrual is a foundational way people gain access to greater opportunities; namely, lending for higher education, building a business, and passing on wealth from one generation to another so that children can live better than their parents.

In the post-World War II GI bill boom, suburbs became popular yet were often denied to Black people. The Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court decision “ended” segregation of schools on paper, but was roundly ignored or circumvented. By the late 1960s, the unfairness of discrimination in all respects including housing reached a boiling point, inspiring marches and demands for federal and local action on civil rights equality.

By 1968, a raft of bills collectively known as the Civil Rights Act were being hotly debated in congress. On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Tennessee,  the stalled Fair Housing Act vote didn’t seem like it would pass the US Senate. However, six days later, the House passed the bill and the act has been amended to be even more inclusive in the over half-century since its passage.

How have things changed since then? 

family in the kitchen

Surprisingly, the gap in home ownership is actually wider today than it was in 1968, with lower numbers of Black homeowners.

Read: Why the Racial Homeownership Gap Exists and How to Combat It

Many factors contribute to this; gentrification in many cities continues to inflate home prices, some real estate agents and some lenders are still reluctant to work in many communities or skirt around policies to unfairly target a particular group of individuals. And many are still recovering from the great recession of 2008. But perhaps, more importantly, we took our eyes off of the goal of equality. 

Read: Four Factors Contributing to the Racial Homeownership Gap

A law born in the anger over the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. is getting new urgency in today’s discussion on race and equality. Home ownership shapes how people find the schools they want, gain access to good jobs and wages, become neighbors and friends, and build the financial foundation that makes the American Dream a reality. 

Home is where equality starts.

We’ll be providing you with tools to understand how these laws work, what they mean for you, and how to identify discrimination. We’re working with our partners in the industry to ensure your rights and consistently reviewing our own processes to ensure we’re doing all we can to help you find a home.

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Jeff Nelson
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Jeff Nelson has managed key partnerships for PrimeStreet and, previously, Homes.com for over a decade. A Virginia Tech graduate, he worked as a journalist covering government policy at the national, state, and local levels for over a dozen newspapers in Northern Virginia and Maryland in the 1980s and 1990s. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and three children.

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