The Fight for Fair Housing Goes On

Earlier this year, the Center joined fair housing advocates across the country in marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.  Unfortunately, what should have been a year of celebrating progress has turned into a year of fighting to protect central provisions of this landmark civil rights law.  It is no exaggeration to say that fair housing is under attack in 2018.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted to do two things: first, to outlaw housing discrimination against individuals, and second, to reverse the effects of decades of discriminatory policies, practices, and institutions that caused extreme racial and economic housing segregation across the country.   The second part of the law has been its least-enforced component over the past fifty years.

However, during the Obama era there were several key administrative and legal decisions that had folks in the fair housing world feeling optimistic.  In 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) issued a final rule on “disparate impact,” formalizing its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act as “prohibiting practices with an unjustified discriminatory effect, regardless of whether there was an intent to discriminate.”  In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld this interpretation in its Inclusive Communities decision.  The same year, HUD released its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule to clarify communities’ obligations to promote integration, as required by that long under-enforced second piece of the FHA. Together, these changes represented the largest step forward on fair housing since the original law’s passage. Graphic of quote: "This work is hard, but we keep going." - Betsy Julian, Inclusive Communities Project, in her 2018 Loving Civil Rights Award Keynote Speech

Unfortunately, under the new administration, HUD has apparently decided to mark the Fair Housing Act’s anniversary by working to undo nearly all of this progress. In January, the agency announced that it was suspending communities’ obligation to comply with the AFFH rule for at least two years.  In May, there was a double-whammy when HUD announced first that it was reconsidering the 2013 Disparate Impact rule and second withdrawing the online tool created to help communities analyze segregation and comply with AFFH.  Then, just last week, the agency announced plans to further overhaul and weaken the AFFH rule.  A lawsuit filed against HUD by a coalition of fair housing advocates, which aimed to stop rollback of the AFFH rule, was dismissed by a federal judge late last week when the judge decided the fair housing groups lacked standing to challenge the rule. (For more, read this excellent summary of recent events by CityLab’s Kriston Capps).

Here in Connecticut, one of the most segregated states in the country, we’ve also had some recent setbacks.  In 2017, the legislature voted to weaken the state’s affordable housing statute, C.G.S. 8-30g, which requires municipalities to approve affordable housing proposals if less than 10% of their units are affordable and there are no health or safety issues. About 81% of Connecticut municipalities do not meet this modest threshold. The 2017 change makes it easier for these towns to avoid or put off new development.  “NIMBY”ism continues to thrive in our state – or at least it feels that way if you attend many local zoning board hearings on affordable housing.

 

It’s hard to find a bright spot in all of this, but fair housing advocates across the country are fighting back.  Our movement includes the nation’s top legal minds on fair housing and civil rights law.  From Washington, DC, to Texas, to New York, to communities across the country and here in Connecticut, we are committed to defending the Fair Housing Act in its entirety, and we won’t back down.  We will continue fighting in the courts, in state houses across the country and in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.  While there have been some recent disappointments in the courts, we’ve also seen some victories, like Open Communities Alliance et al vs Carson, where a judge ruled that HUD must implement a rule that will increase housing choice for voucher holders.  Senator Cory Booker and Rep. Maxine Waters have both introduced bills this year to advance fair housing and counter HUD’s regressive actions. More journalists are covering fair housing issues, raising public awareness like never before.

I also remain optimistic that we can move forward at the state and local levels. In 2017, under the leadership of CT Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein, the state formed its first-ever Fair Housing Working Group, a bipartisan group of legislators, housing and land use policy experts, fair housing advocates (including me), and developers.  In just a few short months, we developed a bill, HB 5045, aimed at requiring towns to develop inclusionary zoning to allow for affordable housing development in order to get state funding.  The bill didn’t pass this year, but transformative legislation like this almost never passes on the first or second try.  The Fair Housing Working Group will continue to push for policies that promote equal access to housing and opportunity.

We’re lucky that Connecticut is home to so many incredible fair housing champions: not only the Center (yes, we’re tooting our own horn!), but also legislators like Roland Lemar, public officials like Commissioner Klein, other nonprofit advocates like the Open Communities Alliance, the Connecticut Housing Coalition, the Partnership for Strong Communities, the Fair Housing Association of CT, and local organizations fighting for fair housing in their own communities.  Across the board, Connecticut’s federal elected officials are all fair housing supporters and have championed fair housing in Congress.

 

During times like these, it’s easy to feel powerless.  But working together, we can make Connecticut a place where all people have equal access to housing opportunities, free from discrimination.

Here are some ways you can fight for fair housing:

  • Become a YIMBY! (Yes In My Back Yard!): Pay attention to the housing talk in your town.  Attend zoning hearings on proposed affordable housing and let your town officials – and your neighbors – know that you support a variety of housing types in a variety of neighborhoods, and that you welcome all kinds of people.
  • Know your rights and report housing discrimination if it happens to you.  Often, a single case can reveal systemic issues that are impacting hundreds or even thousands of other people.
  • Do you work for a social service agency or other organization helping clients find housing? Host a fair housing training for staff at your organization.
  • When considering who to vote for in the next election, find out candidates’ positions on fair housing-related issues. Watch this blog and the Partnership for Strong Communities’ website for information on the affordable housing positions of the candidates for governor. The Connecticut Association of Realtors also plans to host a gubernatorial debate where housing will be discussed.
  • When the 2019 state legislative session opens, let your state senator and representatives know that you support affordable housing development in your district. (Find your legislators here.)
  • While our current federal delegation is supportive of fair housing issues, they’re juggling hundreds of different issues at a time. It can’t hurt to write to them to let them know that you support protecting fair housing rights and federal funding for fair housing enforcement and to thank them for their past support.
  • If you live in a city, watch for signs of gentrification which creates high-cost housing at the expense of housing for long-term residents and talk with your local elected officials about your concerns. Fight food deserts by advocating for grocery stores with healthy, affordable food.
  • Recent research reveals that addressing blighted properties and creating small “pocket parks” in densely populated areas with high crime rates creates a sense of community, reduces crime, and encourages community investment. Perhaps you can work with your neighbors to create a pocket park in your neighborhood.
  • Donate to nonprofit advocacy organizations fighting for fair housing.  Of course, we’d love it if you would donate to the Center, or any of the other organizations mentioned.

 

As the great Betsy Julian of Inclusive Communities Project said in her keynote speech at this year’s Loving Award Dinner, “This work is hard, but we keep going.”  Where we live is the foundation of everything else in our lives.  It determines where our children will go to school, the kinds of jobs we can get, even the water we drink and the air we breathe.  With so much at stake, there’s really no choice: we must keep going. Join us.

Executive Director on the 50th Anniversary of the FHA in CT Mirror’s Sunday Conversation

The Center’s Executive Director, Erin Kemple, was interviewed for The CT Mirror‘s Sunday Conversation this week, discussing where we are fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Here are a few key quotes from the interview:

“The Fair Housing Act was passed to do two things: One was to outlaw discrimination, and the second was to promote integration. And it’s the promoting integration part that we have not made much headway in. If you look at the statistics, Connecticut is one of the most segregated areas in the country. Bridgeport is number four. When you look at white-Latino segregation, Hartford’s number seven. And all of Connecticut ranks in the top 10 percent for white-black segregation. […]

We have done a study, and it’s on our website, that shows that African-Americans who are high income, African-Americans making over $170,000 a year, are denied mortgages at twice the rate of whites making less than $70,000 dollars a year. So it’s not just about the money. And certainly when we do fair-housing testing, it’s not just about the numbers, and it’s not just about the money. We’re finding consistently that the African-Americans are not quoted the same mortgage rates as white people.  […]

We did some testing where we just had people walk into a bank branch. It was in an all-white neighborhood. A Latina says, ‘I’m on my lunch hour. I just need some information about what kinds of loans you have. Do you have anything in writing?’

‘No, we don’t do loans in this branch. You need to go to this other branch. We don’t have any information here.’

A white tester goes in about a half hour later. They have written information. They have offered to call a loan officer so that she can set up an appointment, and they are encouraging her. […]

We are segregated. We have housing, especially affordable housing, placed where it is because of decisions that were made by the government, by local governments, federal and state governments. So they are the ones that have to fix this, and this is why the zoning [legislation] that the governor was talking about [Wednesday at a celebration of the 50th anniversary] is so important. It is putting the onus back on the cities and the towns to open up their communities to people other than the people who have always lived there or who live there now.”

 

Read the rest of Erin Kemple’s interview with The CT Mirror here.

Special thanks to Mark Pazniokas from The CT Mirror for taking the time to chat with Erin.

Governor Malloy Proclaims April 11th “Fair Housing Day”

Executive Director Erin Kemple accepting “Fair Housing Day” Proclamation from Governor Malloy

In front of a small and dedicated bipartisan group of legislators, state officials, and fair housing advocates, Governor Dannel Malloy proclaimed today, April 11th, to be recognized as “Fair Housing Day” in the state of Connecticut. The proclamation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act.   Upon accepting the proclamation, the Center’s Executive Director, Erin Kemple, explained that the discriminatory practices and policies of our past continue today, pointing out that “high income families of color are denied mortgages at twice the rate of low income white families.”  She also noted that discriminatory practices in housing today are typically not as overt as they were at the time of the FHA’s passage, but are now often cloaked in different dress. 

 

The Governor answered questions from the press about HB 5045, the bill he proposed this year that would promote housing choice and ensure local accountability by attaching municipalities’ access to discretionary funds to their compliance with fair housing and inclusionary zoning regulations.  Some reporters questioned whether attaching zoning to discretionary funding is going to be a “hard sell” for lawmakers. Governor Malloy explained that municipalities in Connecticut have had fifty years to do the right thing, and the requirements of C.G.S. 8-2 have been in place for 27 years. It is time for communities to follow the requirements. The Center provided written testimony in support of H.B. 5045.

 

Fifty years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, Connecticut remains one the most segregated states in our country. Ending housing segregation and enforcing the Fair Housing Act is the work we are all proud to do at the Center. Today reminds us all that there is still so much work to do.

 

Read the Governor’s press release about today’s event here.

Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

Until the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 – fifty years ago this month – the bill that would become the Fair Housing Act was the most filibustered bill in history.  But with the nation rocked by widespread riots in the wake of the civil rights leader’s murder, Congress spent seven days engaged in political maneuverings that prevented the legislation from being debated, smuggling drafts out of the Capitol to prevent theft or alteration, and lobbying Senators from the South before finally passing the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) on April 11th, 1968.

The Fair Housing Act was designed to do two things.  First, it outlawed discriminatory actions which prevented individuals who were members of a protected class from obtaining housing, mortgages or insurance.  Second, it tasked federal, state, and local governments with promoting integration by requiring them to affirmatively further fair housing in their programs.

Today, there are fewer overt acts of discrimination like those seen when the FHA was passed.  Instead housing discrimination is now cloaked in different dress.  Newspapers no longer separate their advertisements into “Colored” and “White.”  Instead, housing providers refuse to rent to people with housing subsidies, a practice that disproportionately impacts people of color (while this type of discrimination is illegal in Connecticut, the Center still receives hundreds of these complaints each year). Or they impose different requirements and rules on applicants of color compared with White applicants.Fair Housing Act 50th Anniversary logo

Laws no longer force individuals labelled “mentally feeble” or people with physical disabilities to be institutionalized; however, stereotypes and unfounded fears lead to the shuttering of group homes or their confinement to high poverty urban areas.  Affordable housing for people who are elderly, who in Connecticut are 87% White, is typically welcomed, while similar housing for families with children (more than 60% of CT residents under 18 are African-American or Latino) is often characterized as damaging to the “character of the neighborhood” and protested at public hearings.

As a result of these subtle acts of discrimination, there has been little progress on erasing the segregation caused by past overt acts of discrimination by federal, state, and local governments.  While lawsuits have made some progress in desegregating the Hartford area’s schools, little progress has been made in desegregating neighborhoods.  The movement to end unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities has reduced that practice, but efforts to ensure all neighborhoods welcome people with mental health diagnoses are barely off the ground.  Cities and towns still fail to zone for affordable housing, leaving high-poverty areas to absorb and serve the needs of still more people who are poor.  And there is more sympathy for millennials who are priced out of desirable housing markets than families with children who pay upwards of 40% of their income for housing.

Yes, we have made progress since 1968, but we will not have a truly integrated society until all neighborhoods welcome all people.

Join us in marking the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and recognizing those who continue the fight for fair housing today at our upcoming Loving Civil Rights Award Dinner.

Read more about the long and bumpy road to the passage of the Fair Housing Act and its aftermath.

Learn more about the history of fair housing at the Center’s display this month at the Legislative Office Building.

 

For a closer look at the seven days between MLK’s assassination and the passage of the Fair Housing Act, check out this short documentary from the National Fair Housing Alliance:

 

A version of this post was originally published as a guest post on the Partnership for Strong Communities blog.

New Display at the Capitol Highlights Fair Housing Milestones

Posters about Fair Housing on the wall at the Legislative Office Building

Every April, in honor of Fair Housing Month, the Center curates a display about fair housing for Connecticut’s Legislative Office Building to educate legislators, staff, and the many advocates, students, and visitors who pass through the Capitol buildings on a daily basis.

 

 

Because 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, we decided that this year’s display would focus on the significance of this seminal piece of legislation, highlighting the events that led to its passage as well as some events that have occurred since Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law back on April 11, 1968.  We created a timeline covering 100 years of history to explain how policies and seminal court decisions created and maintain the segregated neighborhoods we see across Connecticut today.

 

For example, you may know that the 1944 Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (better known as the G.I. Bill) helped to create the largest middle class in the nation’s history after World War II.  This legislation helped millions of returning veterans attend college and buy homes, building wealth that would be passed down to future generations.

Posters about fair housing history at the Legislative Office Building concourse

However, many people don’t realize that African-American veterans were left out of the bill’s most powerful benefits.  While White veterans took advantage of new low-interest mortgage loans to buy homes in the growing suburbs, many Black veterans were unable to obtain mortgages because banks wouldn’t lend to them or underwrite loans in non-white neighborhoods, a practice called redlining that was backed by the federal government.  In fact, banks even refused to lend to White families who wanted to buy homes in diverse neighborhoods.  Black veterans who could obtain mortgages were often blocked from buying in white neighborhoods because of racially restrictive covenants, racial steering by real estate agents, and other discriminatory practices.

The rest of the display highlights similar policies, practices, and court cases that shaped neighborhoods in Connecticut and across the country – for better or for worse – all the way up to the present day.

 

Congratulations to our 2018 Student Poster Contest Finalists!

The display also includes a look at the future of fair housing from the finalists of our annual Fair Housing Poster Contest. Students in 6th – 12th grades from schools across Connecticut submitted artwork that reflected this year’s theme: Choice. Mobility. Equity.  Their artwork is fantastic!   This year’s finalists are:6 colorful posters, finalists in the Fair Housing poster contest, hanging on a wall in the Legislative Office Building

Joe Barberi, Norwich Technical High School

Ashley Edmund, Norwich Technical High School

Dewlys Maldondo, Hartford Trinity College Academy

Outdam Nuon, Norwich Technical High School

Marysabel Rivera, Connecticut River Academy

Yeji Yang, Northwest Catholic High School

 

The winners will be announced at the end of April.

The Center’s Fair Housing Month display can be viewed on the Lower Concourse between the Capitol and the LOB now through April 13th.  If you find yourself in Hartford, we encourage you to stop by and take a look!

Want more Fair Housing history?  Check out the National Fair Housing Alliance’s interactive 50th anniversary timeline of the Fair Housing Act.  Interested in what happened closer to home?  Find out about the Center’s Fair Housing Tour of Hartford!

 

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