This month marks the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion and national origin. Progress in the arena of Civil Rights in America often does not look like an upward trajectory; it resembles a meandering creek that ultimately makes its way forward but sometimes appears to go backward in order to do so. The Fair Housing Act is no exception and, similar to the overall Civil Rights Movement, it has been called out both for accomplishing so much and not nearly enough in the same breath.
The Fair Housing Act was presented to Congress at least twice before it was finally passed in April of 1968. President Lyndon B Johnson encouraged Congress to pass the legislation–when it was presented to them for the third time–to honor the groundbreaking work of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior who had been assassinated one week prior. Over the next twenty years, the Fair Housing Act was amended twice to include protections against additional types of discrimination in the housing market; sex was included in 1974 and disabilities and family status were included in 1988.
I've said this before but it is worth restating; homeownership is one of the most powerful paths toward financial security. The Fair Housing Act is not a silver bullet but it is an important set of protections and it is up against decades of systemic bias and inequality in housing practices–zoning, construction, sales, lending, and rentals–in our country. This legislation is an important part of our history as a nation and also as a state considering Oregon's track record on issues like segregation, red-lining, and constitutional exclusions.
Lest you think we can relax and trust that at the fifty-year mark the FHA is established and safe, read the New York Times coverage of recent actions by the Director of Housing and Urban Development that threaten to destabilize the FHA.