When I first moved to the United States I lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan with my sister and her husband. After working for a Spanish language newspaper for a year, I joined the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan in 2005 as a Program Assistant. This job ignited my passion for diversity and inclusion and to work towards ending inequality and unfair treatment. That’s where I learned all about the Fair Housing Act and how it protects people from discrimination when seeking to buy or rent a housing unit.
As a part of my job, I also acted as one of the center’s testers and worked ‘undercover’ pretending I was potential buyer or renter of a housing unit. With proper training, and knowing the guidelines that can help enforce the Fair Housing Act, I had to fill out a form at the end of my visit to a particular unit and report on my experience with the person showing the unit. That work allowed me to experience first hand how housing discrimination manifests in different ways, at times in a subtle way and other times bluntly and evidently.
For people of color this experience is no foreign, I’m sure that more than one of you have been a victim of housing discrimination based on race or ethnicity. However, there are other reasons why people are discriminated against while house hunting, and those categories are protected by the Fair Housing Act. Many people are not familiar with what the Fair Housing Act is and how it applies to them, and more importantly they don’t know what to do if they feel they have been victims of housing discrimination.
During the year I worked to help investigate violations to the Fair Housing Act, I learned of the many ways people experience housing discrimination and how that impacts their lives negatively causing loss of job, displacement, preventing children to attend the school of choice, and even forcing many people into homelessness. Housing discrimination is a reality that affects people of color the most and increases discrimination in other areas of our society by segregating people and aiding gentrification.
What’s The Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act is a law that was enacted in 1968 as a part of the Civil Rights Act that protects the right of all people on United States soil from discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability, marital status, and age. While discrimination is illegal in all types of housing transactions (rentals, sales, lending, and insurance), sadly it doesn’t prevent it from happening, and all of us, as citizens, have to do our part to help end housing discrimination.
The Fair Housing Act it’s enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If you feel you have been discriminated against and your rights are being violated for any of the protected categories, you may file a complaint directly with HUD or contact your local HUD Regional Office or Fair Housing Center if there is one in your area. You can also write a letter, make a phone call or simply visit a local office. It is recommended that you file a complaint right after an incident happens, but you are allow to report housing discrimination up to a year after you experience the violation.
Once you have filed a complaint, you and the person you are complaining about will be notified by HUD. An investigation will then start to determine if there was in fact a violation of the law. In the case that HUD can’t complete the investigation within the next 100 days of your complaint, you’ll be notified. If the investigation proves there was a violation, HUD will try to facilitate an agreement with the person you complaint about. In the case that such agreement is breached, then the recommendation will be issued for the Attorney General to file a suit.
One important detail that many people don’t know is that the Fair Housing Act protects people regardless of their immigration or refugee status on all of the protected categories. Immigrants often fall victims of housing discrimination and are afraid to report it for fear of retaliation. You can read in detail about the way discrimination can play out and what’s prohibited under the law by clicking here.
People experience housing discrimination every day in the United States; it is something we all can help eliminate by reporting when it happens to us and calling it out if we see that is happening to someone else.
Have you ever experience housing discrimination?