Fifty years ago this April, in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968. In that landmark legislation (FHA), the nation took a major step forward in realizing King’s dream of erasing housing inequality in Chicago—and all American communities. In a national housing market that suffered decades of disruption by the artificial impediments of bigotry, the FHA prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing. It meant that the single mother who raised me could not be discriminated against in renting an apartment for her family.
Although real estate ownership has been a bridge to wealth creation for households, America has had an ugly history of restricting or prohibiting such opportunities for non-whites. Deed restrictions once prevented the sale of homes in white neighborhoods to African-American buyers. In 1879, California revised its constitution to limit the ownership of land to Caucasians, in order to prevent Chinese immigrants from acquiring property. Later in 1913, California banned Japanese immigrants from buying land in the state. So the legacy of the FHA is also an acknowledgment that all ethnicities should have the unrestricted right to invest in real property—as well as rent it.
The globally historic nature of this legislation should not be ignored. In 2017, there are still nations that do not adequately ensure open housing markets. The British Broadcasting Company has reported on discriminatory practices against South Asians and mainland Chinese nationals in renting apartments in Singapore. Online advertisements there have expressly stated that Indians and renters from mainland China need not apply—regardless of their financial wherewithal. Brazil, which hosts the largest black population outside of Africa, is notorious for its discriminatory attitudes towards Brazilians of African descent, and those attitudes likely drift into housing transactions. In America, the FHA has helped to make housing markets more open by compelling the market’s suppliers—developers, owners, property managers, brokers and lenders—to eliminate exclusionary attitudes in transactional decisions. The Act, in effect, empowered multicultural communities as consumers of housing.
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