Housing discrimination (United States)
Housing discrimination is discrimination in which an individual or family is treated unequally when trying to buy, rent, lease, sell or finance a home based on certain characteristics, such as race, class, sex, religion, national origin, and familial status. This type of discrimination can lead to housing and spatial inequality and racial segregation which, in turn, can exacerbate wealth disparities between certain groups. In the United States, housing discrimination began after the abolition of slavery as part of a federally sponsored law, but has since been made illegal; however, studies show that housing discrimination still exists.
- 1 History
- 2 Types
- 3 Housing discrimination practices of today
- 4 Demographics
- 5 Effects of Housing Discrimination
- 6 Possible solutions
- 7 See also
- 8 Footnotes
- 9 Further reading
After the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Jim Crow laws were introduced. These laws led to the discrimination of racial and ethnic minorities, especially African Americans. Fifteen state courts obeyed ordinances that enforced the denial of housing to African American and other minority groups in white-zoned areas. These ordinances were then made illegal in the 1917 Supreme Court case, Buchanan v. Warley. Following this decision, however, nineteen states legally supported “covenants,” or agreements, between property owners to not rent or sell any homes to racial or ethnic minorities. Although the covenants, too, were made illegal in 1948, they were still allowed to be present in private deeds. It was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1968, otherwise known as the Fair Housing Act, that the federal government made its first concrete steps to deem all types of housing discrimination unconstitutional. The act explicitly prohibits housing discrimination practices common at the time, including filtering information about a home’s availability, racial steering, blockbusting, and redlining.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act was passed at the urging of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Congress passed the federal Fair Housing Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619, penalties for violation at 42 U.S.C. 3631), Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, only one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The primary purpose of the Fair Housing Law of 1968 is to protect the buyer/renter of a dwelling from seller/landlord discrimination. Its primary prohibition makes it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person's inclusion in a protected class. The goal is a unitary housing market in which a person's background (as opposed to financial resources) does not arbitrarily restrict access. Calls for open housing were issued early in the twentieth century, but it was not until after World War II that concerted efforts to achieve it were undertaken.
The Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) introduced meaningful federal enforcement mechanisms. It outlawed:
- Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
- Discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in the terms, conditions or privilege of the sale or rental of a dwelling.
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference of discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.
- 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.
When the Fair Housing Act was first enacted, it prohibited discrimination only on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In 1988, disability and familial status (the presence or anticipated presence of children under 18 in a household) were added (further codified in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). In certain circumstances, the law allows limited exceptions for discrimination based on sex, religion, or familial status.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is the federal executive department with the statutory authority to administer and enforce the Fair Housing Act. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has delegated fair housing enforcement and compliance activities to HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) and HUD's Office of General Counsel. FHEO is one of the United States' largest federal civil rights agencies. It has a staff of more than 600 people located in 54 offices around the United States. As of June 2014, the head of FHEO is Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Gustavo Velasquez, whose appointment was confirmed on June 19, 2014.
Individuals who believe they have experienced housing discrimination can file a complaint with FHEO at no charge. FHEO funds and has working agreements with many state and local governmental agencies where "substantially equivalent" fair housing laws are in place. Under these agreements, FHEO refers complaints to the state or locality where the alleged incident occurred, and those agencies investigate and process the case instead of FHEO. This is known as FHEO's Fair Housing Assistance Program (or "FHAP").
There is also a network of private, non-profit fair housing advocacy organizations throughout the country. Some are funded by FHEO's Fair Housing Initiatives Program (or "FHIP"), and some operate with private donations or grants from other sources.
Victims of housing discrimination need not go through HUD or any other governmental agency to pursue their rights, however. The Fair Housing Act confers jurisdiction to hear cases on federal district courts. The United States Department of Justice also has jurisdiction to file cases on behalf of the United States where there is a pattern and practice of discrimination or where HUD has found discrimination in a case and either party elects to go to federal court instead of continuing in the HUD administrative process.
The Fair Housing Act applies to landlords renting or leasing space in their primary residence only if the residence contains living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by three or more other families living independently of each other, such as an owner-occupied rooming house.
The Fair Housing Act has been strengthened since its adoption in 1968, but enforcement continues to be a concern among housing advocates. According to a 2010 evaluation of Analysis of Impediments (AI) reports done by the Government Accountability Office, enforcement is particularly inconsistent across local jurisdictions.
The federal government has passed other initiatives in addition to the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 and Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 helped with discrimination in mortgage lending and lenders' problems with credit needs. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 was passed to give the federal government the power to enforce the original Fair Housing Act to correct past problems with enforcement. The amendment established a system of administrative law judges to hear cases brought to them by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and to levy fines. Because of the relationship between housing discrimination cases and private agencies, the federal government passed the two initiatives. The Fair Housing Assistance Program of 1984 was passed to assist public agencies with processing complaints, and the Fair Housing Initiatives program of 1986 supported private and public fair housing agencies in their activities, such as auditing. Between 1990 and 2001 these two programs have resulted in over one thousand housing discrimination lawsuits and over $155 million in financial recovery. However, the lawsuits and financial recoveries generated from fair housing discrimination cases only scratches the surface of all instances of discrimination. Silverman and Patterson concluded that the underfunding and poor implementation of federal, state and local policies designed to address housing discrimination results in less than 1% of all instances of discrimination being addressed. Moreover, they found that local nonprofits and administrators responsible for enforcing fair housing laws had a tendency to downplay discrimination based on family status and race when designing implementation strategies.
The United States Census has shown that ethnic and racial minorities living in concentrated, high-poverty areas had actually increased following the passage of the Fair Housing Act from 1970 to 1990. African-Americans residing in these areas rose from 16 percent to 24 percent, and Hispanics living in these areas have increased from 10 percent to 15 percent. While this does not necessarily point to evidence of housing discrimination, it does mirror the phenomenon of white flight—the mass exodus during the 1970s and '80s of European-Americans from cities to the suburbs that left only one-fourth of the Anglo population still living in metropolitan areas. American sociologist Douglas Massey, in his essay, "The New Geography of Inequality in Urban America", argues that this new racial geography in the United States has laid the foundation for housing discrimination to occur in order to keep up the status quo.
Sociologists Vincent J. Roscigno, Diana L. Karafin, and Griff Tester have determined that the variety of actions that constitute housing discrimination can be classified as either exclusionary or nonexclusionary.
Exclusionary discrimination practices refer to "actions and practices that exclude an individual or family from obtaining the housing of their choosing." These forms of housing discrimination occur at various stages of the rental or sales process. The majority of discriminatory actors in exclusionary discrimination are landlords and landowners, as they have the positional power and direct access to the individual or family and the housing being sought. Other discriminatory actors or institutions responsible for exclusion include real estate, insurance, and banking and lending agents and institutions.
Most exclusionary discrimination cases entail forms of outright exclusion, such as a direct refusal to rent to a prospective tenant, direct refusal to sell or discuss the sale of a property, or the false representation of homes or apartments available for sale or rent. Although this outright exclusion is often made up of subtle actions, like lying about standards for rental qualification to disqualify certain individuals, it sometimes also comes with overt verbal abuse and slurs.
Other exclusionary cases entail discriminatory terms and conditions pertaining to the sale or rental of an apartment or home with the purpose of denying access. These forms include unfair financing or loan qualifications or terms, steering or restricting the choices of people seeking homes, differential criteria to qualify to rent a home, and refusing to provide insurance, which would prevent the individual or family from acquiring a home. Consumer advocate groups conducted studies and found that many minority borrowers who were eligible for affordable, traditional loans were often steered toward incredibly high-priced subprime loans that they would never be able to repay.
A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that "the greatest share of discrimination for Hispanic and African American home seekers can still be attributed to being told units are unavailable when they are available to non-Hispanic whites and being shown and told about less units than a comparable non-minority."
Nonexclusionary discrimination practices refer to "actions and practices that occur within an already established housing arrangement, most often entailing racial harassment, differential treatment of tenants, or disparate application of contractual terms and conditions of residency." Individuals and families already housed experience ongoing intimidation, differential treatment, and harassment, and nonexclusionary discrimination often results in distress for victims since the victim is often legally bound to the home and usually has direct contact with the perpetrator on a regular basis. Landlords and owners are still responsible for the majority of this type of housing discrimination, but neighbors and banking and lending institutions participate more. For instance, even without institutionalized exclusionary power, residential neighbors can harass and intimidate tenants.
Most nonexclusionary discrimination cases involve applying discriminatory terms and conditions within the victim's current residential setting. The majority of these cases involve terms, conditions, and privileges relating to a current rental arrangement. These cases are often seen as unfairly raising the rent of a select group or allowing certain tenants privileges, like using a facility after hours or being lenient on pet policies. Many nonexclusionary discrimination cases involve the failure to provide equal access to services and facilities, such as purposely delaying or completely forgoing fixing a broken pipe. More terms and conditions cases involve discriminatory financing, loans, and appraisals of the individual or family's property, which is when the discriminatory actor takes advantage of the victim financially.
Other forms of nonexclusionary discrimination include the use of harassment, intimidation, and coercion toward victims. This includes racial slurs and threats of violence, both of which create an uneasy environment in which the victims live. These forms can cause excessive anxiety and stress for the individual or family affected. If an individual holding a position of an authority, such as the landlord, is responsible for the nonexclusionary discrimination, the victim is left with a feeling of powerlessness and lack of ability to get help.
Housing discrimination practices of today
Professor of Public Administration and Economics and expert in the field of housing discrimination studies, John Yinger, argues that discriminatory housing practices in the housing market have led to segregation and can be interpreted as forms of modern-day discrimination. One important example cited is of realtors opting to place public housing in crowded inner city minority neighborhoods instead of those with an Anglo majority due to “public and political pressure.”  Other housing phenomena that Yinger argues encourage segregation are those of sorting and bidding in which bidders perceived to be higher-class win out on cheaper per-square-foot, larger homes farther away from inner cities. The study done by the U.S. Housing Scholars adds that school zoning has also been named a culprit for housing segregation, and may be used as a critical venue for housing discrimination. It also cites the Internet as yet another means for the perpetuation of housing discrimination that is, as of now, unrestricted by the provisions of the Fair Housing Act. While the Fair Housing Act strictly prohibits any sellers from using language that explicitly names a preference for a certain group, third-party sellers that use sites like Craigslist.com and Roommates.com to find buyers or renters are granted immunity from the FHA, and the websites are not held liable. This was cemented by the 2004 court case, Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, LLC, in which Roommates.com was not held liable for users with advertisements such as, ‘looking for White Christian Male,’ since the website did not have the resources to monitor and censor such usage.
LGBT housing discrimination
Housing discrimination focuses more on race, but recent studies have shown a growing trend toward discrimination in the housing market against those who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or transgender. Since housing discrimination based on sexual orientation was not explicitly cited in the Fair Housing Act, as of 2007, it was banned only in 17 states. In all states, same-sex couples are frequently unable to apply to public housing as a family unit, thus decreasing their chances at being accepted into the program. For instance, in comprehensive study done by the Fair Housing Centers of Michigan in 2007, statistics showed that out of 120 paired-tests, almost 30 percent of same-sex couples were given higher rental rates and less encouragement to rent, both examples of nonexclusionary housing discrimination. An HUD study released in 2011 surveyed of 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming persons and found that "19 percent reported having been refused a house or an apartment because of gender identity."
On January 30, 2012, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced new regulations that would require all housing providers that receive HUD funding to prevent housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. These regulations went into effect on March 5, 2012.
Ethnic and racial minority housing discrimination
Ethnic and racial minorities are impacted the most by housing discrimination. Exclusionary discrimination against African Americans most often occurs in rental markets and sales markets. Families are vulnerable to exclusion, but African American women are especially overrepresented as victims, especially single African American mothers. This discriminatory exclusion is because of stereotypes concerning race and single women. The presence of children in a minority family at times is what warrants the discrimination. African Americans are also the victims in most nonexclusionary cases, with African American women still overrepresented. Nonexclusionary forms of discrimination such as racial slurs and intimidation affect many minority victims. Some racial minorities suffer the purposeful neglect of service needs, such as a landlord fixing a white tenant's bathtub quickly but delaying fixing the bathtub of the minority tenant. Data obtained by Ohio Civil Rights Commission studied housing discrimination cases between 1988 and 2003, and of the 2,176 cases filed, 1,741 were filed by African Americans. A study by HUD released in 2005 found that more and more Hispanics are facing discrimination in their housing searches. A 2011 article by HUD asserts that one out of five times, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders receive less favorable treatment than others when they seek housing. Some cases brought to the Department of Justice show that municipalities and other local government entities violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 when they denied African Americans housing, permits, and zoning changes, or steered them toward neighborhoods with a predominantly minority population.
According to the U.S. Census of Population in 1990, 25.3 percent of all Anglo-Americans in the U.S. lived in central city areas. The percentage of African Americans living in inner cities was 56.9 percent, and the percentage of inner city Hispanics was 51.5 percent. Asian Americans living in central cities totaled 46.3 percent. Furthermore, according to a more recent U.S. Census Bureau study in 2002, the average white person living in a metropolitan area lives in a neighborhood that is 80 percent Anglo and seven percent black, while the average African American lives in a neighborhood that is 33 percent white and more than 51 percent black. As of 2000, 75 percent of all African Americans lived in highly segregated communities, making them the most segregated group in the nation. These statistics do not necessarily point to evidence of housing discrimination, but rather to segregation based on historical reasons which have made ethnic and racial minorities more economically deprived, and thus prone to living in more poverty-stricken inner city areas.
In a comprehensive study by the HUD in 2000, paired-tests (in which two applicants of different races but the same economic status and credit scores apply to rent or buy a house) were used to determine whether or not statistics about segregation truly pointed to housing discrimination. This study reported that although adverse treatment of racial and ethnic minorities has decreased over time, roughly 25 percent of white applicants were still favored above those who were African-American or Hispanic. About 17 percent of African American applicants and 20 percent of Hispanic applicants were subjected to adverse treatment, including receiving less information about a home or being shown fewer, lower-quality units.
Effects of Housing Discrimination
John Yinger, a sociologist who has studied housing discrimination, argues that it is something perhaps most concretely evidenced by its effects: concentrated poverty. People who suffer from housing discrimination often live in lower-quality housing. Housing inequalities often reflect the unequal distribution of income. Poor areas suffer from educational disparities, and a poor education translates into earnings disparities. Those who earn less can only afford lower-quality housing. Segregation, health risks, and wealth disparities all relate to poverty.
Perhaps the most unmistakable consequence of housing discrimination is residential segregation. Housing discrimination helps reinforce residential segregation through mortgage discrimination, redlining, and predatory lending practices. Racial avoidance and threats of violence also result in racial segregation. Housing discrimination can also impact minority preferences over time, as individuals or families experiencing harassment and intimidation at their home on a daily basis may transition to more accepting neighborhoods.
Health risks are a consequence of housing discrimination. Those suffering housing discrimination and people living below the poverty threshold often rent small or low-quality housing. Lead paint leftover from past years and animal pests, such as rats, can be found in older housing, resulting in serious health consequences. Lead can lead to lowered intelligence in children. Asthma is also a problem that comes with lower-quality housing, since more air pollution, dust, mold, and mildew are more likely to occur.
Neighborhood effects are also seen due to housing discrimination and residential segregation. The housing inequality that comes with living in lower-quality housing means that neighborhood amenities are lacking. Poorer areas offer worse education, leading to educational and employment disadvantages and a higher school dropout rate. Schools are often segregated due to the effects of housing discrimination and residential segregation, in turn hindering students' educational performance. A study conducted by the Century Foundation in Montgomery County, Md., showed that students from a low-income background enrolled in affluent schools did better than students in higher-poverty schools. Criminal activity, including gang life and drug abuse, is also more prevalent in poorer areas. The rate of teenage pregnancy has been shown to increase in these areas as well.
Sociologists Thomas Shapiro and Jessica Kenty-Drane state that wealth disparities are also a result of housing discrimination, as housing discrimination acts as a barrier to homeownership. Homeowners may learn management and home repair skills, and the children of homeowners are less likely to drop out of high school or to have children as teenagers. Additionally, credit constraints limit homeownership for people with low income. Housing discrimination that keeps families from affordable loans and nicer areas with increasing property values keep victims from accumulating wealth. Residential segregation also leads to generational wealth disparities. Children often inherit wealth from their parents, and if parents were forced into poor-quality housing because of housing discrimination, then there is less wealth to hand down.
Sociologist Douglas Massey argues that housing discrimination is a moving target. As federal legislation concerning anti-housing discrimination policies become more effective, new forms of housing discrimination have emerged to perpetuate residential segregation, and in turn, poverty.
There have been a number of solutions proposed to finally end the threat of housing discrimination and eliminate any legal loopholes in which it may operate. So far fair housing enforcement of federal legislation concerning housing discrimination has faced challenges. The main burden of enforcement falls on federal financial regulatory institutions, like the Federal Reserve Board, and the HUD. The enforcement provisions of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 were limited, and even though the act was amended in 1988, there are still problems with enforcement since housing discrimination often happens one-on-one and is not very visible, even in audits. The Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 did make a system of administrative law judges to hear housing discrimination cases to help against the illegal actions. Other examples of federal legislation may include increased federal legislation enforcement, scattered-site housing, or state and local enforcement on a more concentrated level. Better methods of enforcement in addition to new policies are proposed to be a help. In 2010 the Justice Department under President Barack Obama made a new fair-lending unit.
Inclusionary remedies to truly enforce integration are also proposed. Inclusionary housing refers to making sure that areas are integrated, and inclusionary housing increases chances for racial minorities to gain and sustain employment. Recently Montgomery County, Md., passed an ordinance to require new housing developments to consist of a percentage of moderately priced dwelling units, guaranteeing more affordable better housing for 10 years.
Other proposed solutions include subsidies, such as direct subsidies, project-based subsidies, household-based subsidies, and tax reductions. As of 2001, only 15.7 percent of poor households received federal housing subsidies, meaning a majority of people in poor households did not receive that help. Household-based subsidies have been a significant source of new housing assistance as of late. HUD has handed out housing certificates to allow participants of Section 8 to move into higher-quality housing units.
It is important to prioritize policy and city planning. Planning for sustainability does not come with a one-size fits all approach; wicked problems persist without clarity or solutions. However, looking beyond urban regimes and accepting the nexus of these regimes is the first step for change that planners can take. This can be done through the notion of Equitable Development, an approach that aims to create communities of opportunity. Inequalities oppressing low-income communities composed of diverse ethnicities are not only unethical but prove to be economically and environmentally unsustainable. Partnership between government, private sectors, and community-based organizations to manipulate public policy for the promotion of social equity, as well as, economic growth and environmental sustainability are crucial for justice.
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