The 1968 Fair Housing Act directed governments and their agencies to "affirmatively further" fair housing. The Act outlawed discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. Yet after more than four decades, residential segregation and racial discrimination in housing remains virtually unchanged in many of our cities. Minorities, mainly African-Americans and Hispanics continue to experience discrimination in housing partly because of the lack of local and federal agencies not willing to enforce the mandate of "affirmatively furthering" fair housing. As a result discrimination continues.
ProPublica’s story on the Rembis family is an all too familiar example of housing discrimination. Claire Rembis and her husband came across a four-bedroom house advertised on Craigslist. It sounded like just what they had been looking for. It provided ample room for their children to run and play and the monthly rent was much cheaper than that of other homes they had looked at. They had a look at the house and loved it.
Three days later, Claire Rembis got a call from the landlord saying she was dropping by to see how the family lived. During the landlord’s visit, she asked Claire who is biracial, whether she was concerned about living in the area (which is predominantly white). A few days later Claire received an email saying the family could not rent the house because there were issues with their credit and they had too many small children.
By then, Claire had already contacted a non- profit Fair Housing Center. The center arranged for black and white testers to ask to rent the house. The black family and the white family had the same income, the same credit history, and the black family had the least number of kids. The black family was not even allowed to see the house and their calls were not returned. The white tester was shown the property, was immediately called back and invited to see the house.
The Rembis family case is not an isolated one. HUD studies have found that African Americans and Hispanics are discriminated against in one of every five home-buying encounters and one in every four attempts to rent an apartment. Only a scant few of these incidents ever come to the attention of authorities. The negligible number of housing discrimination cases arises largely from choices by federal agencies. Instead of actively searching for landlords and agents who discriminate, federal officials open investigations only after complaints are filed. But most victims have no idea they've been discriminated against, which means they never demand an inquiry. Experts say undercover testing is the most effective way to catch landlords and real estate agents, who conceal their intentions behind smiling faces and seemingly open, friendly attitudes.
However, the federal government almost never uses this technique. HUD, the chief enforcement agency of the FHA, runs no testing program of its own. Instead, it outsources the work to a host of poorly funded private housing groups. In support of this practice, a HUD spokesman released a statement saying the agency avoids conducting its own tests for racial bias so it can remain "neutral" when it receives complaints.
Congressman Al Green, has introduced a bill for the fourth time, to fund a national program to test for housing discrimination in a bid to affirmatively further housing. The Veterans, Women, Families with Children, Race, and Persons with Disabilities Housing Fairness Act of 2013 is also known as the Housing Fairness Act of 2013. It authorizes $15 million annually over five years for HUD to administer the nationwide testing program to measure patterns of adverse treatment in the housing market. Green's previous bills on the issue have all died at the committee stage, without reaching a full vote in the House. This is a testament to a lack of priority in fighting housing discrimination. "I don't believe this is something we can ignore. I plan to keep introducing the bill as long as I am in Congress until we pass it," Green said.
Thus, four decades after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, it is clear that the federal government’s approach to tackling housing discrimination is ineffective. HUD’s option to fund non-profit groups around the country to perform tests helps bring the majority of lawsuits involving housing discrimination. However, large parts of the country are not subject to any discrimination testing.
It is clear that a national fair housing testing program would be the most effective and efficient way to bring about change and end behavior that perpetuates segregation and has the capability to reach the kinds of discrimination that are not identified by victims, or where the victims may be unaware of their rights or reluctant to file complaints. Instituting a national testing program will definitely be a way to "affirmatively further" fair housing.