Erin Kemple, Executive Director, Connecticut Fair Housing Center
Immediately after the death of Martin Luther King, 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 11, 1968. The law 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. 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 often welcomed while similar housing for families with children (more than 60% of people under 18 are African-American or Latino) is characterized as damaging to the character of the neighborhood.
As a result of 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 dented 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 but we will not have a truly integrated society until all neighborhoods welcome all people.
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