Housing discrimination in the United States
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Housing discrimination in the United States began after the abolition of slavery, typically as part of the "Jim Crow laws" that enforced racial segregation. The federal government began to take action against these laws in 1917, when the Supreme Court ruled in Buchanan v. Warley that ordinances prohibiting blacks from occupying or owning buildings in majority-white neighborhoods, and vice versa, were unconstitutional.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 included legislation known as the Fair Housing Act, which made it unlawful for a landlord to discriminate against or prefer a potential tenant based on their race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, when advertising or negotiating the sale or rental of housing. Such protections have also been extended to other "protected classes" including disabilities and familial status. Despite these efforts, studies have shown that housing discrimination still exists.
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. In the 1917 Supreme Court case Buchanan v. Warley, the court ruled that a Louisville, Kentucky ordinance prohibiting blacks from owning or occupying buildings in a majority-white neighborhood, and vice versa, was unconstitutional. Following this decision, however, nineteen states began legally supporting "covenants," or agreements, between property owners to not rent or sell any homes to racial or ethnic minorities. Although the covenants were later made illegal in 1948, they were still allowed to be in private deeds. It was not until the Fair Housing Act, enacted as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 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 Fair Housing Act introduced meaningful federal enforcement mechanisms.
- 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.
However, victims of housing discrimination need not go through HUD or any other governmental agency to pursue their rights. 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 resulted 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.
Some states have passed laws on top of the Fair Housing Act that also outlaw housing discrimination based on the source of funding, particularly to combat landlords who openly refuse to serve tenants using Section 8 vouchers.
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.
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." 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.
Certain policies that do not discriminate on its face have also been found to cause housing discrimination in the United States. Disparate impact is a facially neutral housing policy that negatively impacts minorities or other protected groups of people. The Supreme Court upheld the decades long practice of holding housing providers liable for housing discrimination under a disparate impact theory in 2015. Following the Supreme Court decision, HUD issued an opinion from their Office of General Counsel concluding that blanket prohibitions against tenants with criminal convictions would constitute disparate impact housing discrimination because incarceration rates in the United States are disproportionate between minorities and non-minorities. Disparate impact remains controversial among industry and business professionals because some feel that their freedom in implementing policies and rules is now limited .
Housing discrimination practices of today
Sociologist John Yinger argued that discriminatory housing practices in the housing market have led to segregation, citing examples such as 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.
Internet classified platforms have also faced scrutiny under the Fair Housing Act; in 2008, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, LLC, that Roommates.com had induced housing discrimination by allowing users to specify roommate preferences on their profiles in pre-determined categories relating to protected classes such as gender. This was ruled to not fall under the Section 230 safe harbor—which protects interactive computer services from liability for the actions of their users—because Roommates.com was specifically responsible for having provided specific means to engage in conduct illegal under the Fair Housing Act (however, the site was not deemed responsible for information provided in a field that allowed users to type in additional comments). The Roommates.com decision was overturned in 2012, however, with the court ruling that due to the intimacy of this relationship, it would be a violation of their "privacy, autonomy and security" if tenants were unable to seek a roommate that was compatible with their own lifestyle.
Facebook has faced accusations that its targeted advertising platform facilitates housing discrimination, as it allowed advertisers to target or exclude specific audiences from campaigns, and that its advertising-delivery system is optimized to favor demographics that are the most likely to interact with an ad, even if they are not explicitly specified by the advertiser. After an investigation by ProPublica, Facebook removed the ability for housing advertisers to target ads based on a user's "affinity" to a specific culture or ethnicity—a behavior that is calculated based on the user's interactions on the service. However, it was found that advertisers could still discriminate based on interests implicating protected classes (such as Spanish-language television networks), and redlining ZIP code ranges.
After signing a legally binding agreement with the State of Washington, Facebook announced that it would remove at least 5,000 categories from its exclusion system to prevent "misuse", including those relating to races and religions. On March 19, 2019, to settle a lawsuit with the National Fair Housing Alliance, Facebook agreed to create a separate portal for housing, employment, and credit (HEC) advertising with limited targeting options by September 2019, and to provide a public archive of all HEC advertising. Less than two weeks later, HUD filed a lawsuit against Facebook, formally accusing the company of facilitating housing discrimination.
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 in only 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 a 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 non-exclusionary cases, with African American women still overrepresented. Non-exclusionary 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 to fix 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.
Quasi-experimental audit studies, in which equally qualified individuals of different races both participate in housing searches, have found strong evidence of racial housing discrimination in the United States.
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. 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 white 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. According to a study in the Journal of Economics, homeownership rates for Asian American and Hispanic minorities are negatively impacted by an immigrant status. Thus, their homeownership rates are lower than other demographic groups even when factors like income are accounted for.
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 left over 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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