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Fair Housing

When a WWII vet returned home and was denied fair housing, the course of history forever changed

Did you know that Fair Housing was inspired by a vet who volunteered his life to defend our nation, only to come home and be denied housing? What has happened since legislation was enacted and what is going on today? NAR CEO Bob Goldberg weighs in.

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Senator Brooke - Fair Housing pioneer

April marks the passage of the Fair Housing act of 1968, which the REALTOR® population commemorates, recomitting to expanded equal access to housing. Offering more texture to the ongoing fair housing challenge in America, the following editorial is penned by Bob Goldberg, CEO of the National Association of Realtors®, America’s largest trade association:


The legislation was going nowhere. At least not in a form that would have done much good.

Following months of debate amid nationwide unrest, the version of H.R. 2516 that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives was diluted and largely impotent.

Then it waited – idle – in the Senate for the remainder of 1967.

When the upper chamber eventually (reluctantly) took up the bill, the junior Senator from Massachusetts took the floor. Edward Brooke then told a story that’s as powerful today as it was 54 years ago.

Enlisting in the United States Army immediately after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Edward Brooke was assigned to the segregated 366th Infantry Regiment and soon entered into European Theater from the unit’s outpost in Italy. There, Brooke’s fluency in Italian was a tremendous asset to Allied war efforts, his covert actions in Axis territory earning a Bronze Star Medal for service in a combat zone.

He returned home a decorated veteran, a member of the group that would reverently be known as America’s “Greatest Generation” for its defeat of fascism and its persistence through the Great Depression.

Yet Brooke, who would become the first Black American popularly elected to the U.S. Senate, found himself denied the ability to compete for certain homes in certain neighborhoods because of the color of his skin.

“In the hierarchy of American values, there can be no higher standard than equal justice for each individual,” Brooke said in the winter of 1968. “By that standard, who could question the right of every American to compete on equal terms for adequate housing for his family?”

For Brooke, with his new wife and a blossoming family, the experience was devastating. But it was far from unique. Even for those returning as heroes from Europe and the Pacific.

While the GI bill promised to repay American soldiers for their immense sacrifices in World War II, many of those benefits were in truth only promised to White veterans.

“Here we were… fighting for freedom overseas when we did not have freedom at home. We had hoped and prayed that when the war was over… things would [be] different,” he said years later. “But when we came back, it was just business as usual.”

The encounter prompted Brooke to enroll in law school at Boston University, setting him on the path to public service.

With redlining pervasive in post-World War II America, historian Ira Katznelson notes that non-whites purchased “fewer than 100 of the 67,000 mortgages insured by the GI bill” in suburban New York City. Across 1947 Mississippi, just two of more than 3,100 VA-guaranteed home loans went to Black borrowers.

Something, it was clear in Brooke’s mind, had to change.

“Fair housing [was always] a problem for me,” Brooke recounted in 2007. “I lived in a time when you had redlining, where Blacks couldn’t get mortgages in certain areas… And I just believed that something had to be done dramatically, but effectively, to bring about fair housing in this country. So, I introduced legislation.”

Today, Brooke and Walter Mondale are recognized as the fathers of fair housing.

Together, these Senators from opposing parties and divergent backgrounds drafted S. 1358, the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Its language would eventually be adopted into the same H.R. 2516, legislation known officially as the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This initial bill had been watered down so much through House debate that its only real, remaining purpose prior to the adoption of S. 1358 was to protect civil rights workers.

As I outlined back in February, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. catalyzed Congress into final, definitive action on housing, applying the public pressure and motivation lawmakers needed to move the Fair Housing Act from proposal to policy.

But it was Senator Brooke’s powerful experience as a Black veteran denied the inalienable right to property that helped birth the landmark law we now celebrate each April.

Senator Brooke - Fair Housing

This fight for equal rights and equal access throughout society persists in various forms, overt and obscure. In employment and education and health care. And, still, in housing.

Today, Realtors® and real estate agents play a unique role in the realization of the Fair Housing Act. The 1.5 million members of the National Association of Realtors® are on the front lines with consumers — both buyers and sellers — and see firsthand where discrimination is experienced.

Back in 2019, NAR began developing an implicit bias training video to share with our members and other industry professionals. This resource drew upon the latest scientific research to illustrate how our brains’ automatic, instant association of stereotypes causes us to treat different groups of people unfairly. The video has today been viewed by tens of thousands of Realtors®.

Building off its success, NAR earlier this month unveiled a new implicit bias classroom training program, which is eligible for state-level continuing education credit. (To maintain real estate licensure, agents and brokers are required by their respective state’s real estate commission to regularly complete a pre-determined amount of continuing education hours.)

The training explains how our unconscious brains immediately categorize people in the human effort to process information more quickly.

It then offers participants various tactics to help break down stereotypical thinking, ultimately allowing each client and consumer to be treated with an equal level of concern and respect.

NAR invited many of the most experienced trainers already engaged with At Home with Diversity® to complete the intensive, two-day certification process requisite to leading Realtors® through the program.

Ultimately, our hope is that this effort will raise the bar on the overall quality and expectations of fair housing training in this country.

But making housing fair in America requires so much more than a focus on implicit bias, a fact NAR recognizes well.

In his memoirs, Senator Brooke wrote that “the issue of open housing went beyond politics and asked white America to cast off prejudice… and to embrace justice for all.” He knew that justice, true justice, was not possible without true fair housing in America.

Edward Brooke laid his life on the line to preserve the principles of freedom, democracy, and justice. His experiences — his story — remain a critical component of our broader, national story. And it’s a constant, explicit example of everything our modern-day pursuit of fair housing embodies.

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Fair Housing

What the new criminal background checks mean for real estate

The Fair Housing Act provides guidance regarding homebuyer and renter background checks.

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home buyers

If you consider that that nearly a third of Americans, 100 million people in all, have a criminal record (with an additional 650,000 released from prison each year) it kind of justifies some seeking to run a criminal background check on a potential client for sales or rental purposes.

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At the recent [REALTORS] Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., a forum titled, “Criminal Background Checks, Fair Housing Compliance and You” posited that, “The three things [realtors] need to do when developing a program are have consistent procedures, uniform standards, and an explanation for criminal background check programs.”

Just who is protecting whom?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published the Fair Housing Act guidance on April 4 that has raised concerns for housing providers who use criminal history screening processes to make decisions about sales, rentals financing and other real estate activity.

Consider this: minorities are a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. Persons with criminal records are not. So are those individuals being biased? The interpretation of HUD’s guidance is that creating arbitrary or blanket criminal-based policies and restrictions could potentially violate the Fair Housing Act.

Do’s and Don’ts

For its part, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has summarized HUD’s guidance in a “Do’s and Don’ts” guide, with tips that urge real estate professionals to uniformly consider criminal history, regardless of an individual’s protected class status, while avoiding policies that exclude anyone based on arrest records alone. Selected examples can be seen below:

Do’s Don’ts
Create tailored criminal history-based policies/practices. Don’t create arbitrary or overly-broad criminal history-based policies/practices.
Be sure to have clear, specific reasoning for the criminal history-based policy/practice that can be supported by evidence. Don’t maintain a policy/practice, or any portion thereof, that does not serve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.
Exclude individuals only based on criminal convictions that present a demonstrable risk to resident safety or property. Don’t create exclusions based on arrest records alone.
Consider the nature and severity of an individual’s conviction before excluding the individual based on the conviction. Don’t create a blanket exclusion of any person with any conviction record.

Granted, everyone has a right to live wherever they can afford, and that means strong support for the Fair Housing Act and its mission. The better understanding that realtors have of the rules and regulations affecting their businesses allow them to further strengthen the communities they serve, while ensuring equal housing opportunities for the people who live there.

#FairHousing

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Fair Housing

Some landlords refuse to rent to Trump supporters, others to Mexicans, others to single moms – which of these is legal?

Landlords violate Fair Housing laws from time to time, sometimes knowingly, other times unaware of their illegal acts. But sometimes discrimination is totally legal. Let’s discuss.

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Just recently, a Colorado landlord posted a notice that he would refuse to rent to someone who supported Donald Trump. Strangely, this practice is legal. The Fair Housing Act does not have provisions for political views. However, according to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, landlords cannot take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities

Protecting consumers in California

The agency responsible for violations is HUD. Tenants can file complaints with HUD, but many times, minorities and immigrants aren’t even aware that discrimination has occurred. This is the situation in Santa Clara, California. An apartment complex allegedly refused to accept Mexican forms of identification, such as a passport, while they encouraged an individual with a Canadian passport to apply for a rental. Mexican families had no way of knowing that they were being discriminated against.

Project Sentinel, which is a fair housing non-profit organization discovered the discrepancy and reported it to HUD. After six months of investigations and negotiations, a settlement was reached. The apartment complex, DBA Income Property Specialists, and the owners and managers came to an agreement whereby they would give Project Sentinel a monetary settlement and go through training to ensure they would not be discriminating in the future. It was a rather costly error in judgment for Income Property Specialists.

A Texas agency dealing with Fair Housing

In Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission is the state agency responsible for monitoring rental properties.

TWC offers training for management companies and developers who are required to have the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs fair housing training. In addition, there are many resources available through the website to ensure your rentals are operating under the Fair Housing Act.

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Fair Housing

Landlords charged with discrimination for allowing harassment of tenants with disabilities

Fair Housing protects against discrimination, so when a landlord asks someone to move out because other residents are harassing them for being disabled, HUD takes action.

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As real estate agents and brokers, you are hopefully well versed in the Fair Housing Act, which protects tenants and homeowners from discrimination.

A recent case of housing discrimination in Wisconsin serves as a poignant reminder that landlords and housing managers are not only responsible for providing housing fairly, but also for protecting tenants against hate and harassment based on factors such as race, religion, gender, or, in this case, disability.

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are charging the owners and managers of a Cross Plains, Wisconsin apartment building with violations of the Fair Housing Act.

According to the suit, William Ranguette and Candice Wood, owners and managers of the Applewood senior housing complex, failed to address the harassment of their tenants, a mother and daughter who were being harassed on the basis of their disabilities.

Tenants were taunted for being disabled

The mother, who has cerebral palsy, and her daughter, who has Down’s Syndrome, reported that other tenants would follow them home and insult them, saying things like “you don’t belong here, you belong in an institution,” and hurling other abuses.

The mother reported these incidents to the local police, who issued warnings – but the harassment continued.

When the tenant reported these incidents to the apartment managers, she was told that she was causing too much trouble and was pressured to move. The tenants received a notice that their lease would not be renewed, and they moved out.

Renters should never feel degraded

According to Housing and Urban Development assistant secretary Gustav Velasquez, “A person’s home should be where they feel the greatest level of comfort – not anguish and fear because of being subjected to humiliating and degrading comments.”

“Harassing a person because of their disability is not only disturbing, it is illegal,” Velasquez concludes.

It is likewise both heartless and illegal for a housing manager to refuse to intervene to prevent harassment.

#FairHousing

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