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The Continuing Need for Fair Housing

Updated: Apr 2

The Key to Wealth is Real Estate

For the vast majority of Americans, substantially all of their wealth is housing-related. It is the vehicle that powers other investments. Without homeownership, Americans at the lowest income levels have practically no wealth accumulation or are in a negative wealth situation. This means their total debts exceed their total assets. Those most likely to experience negative wealth according to a recent World Economic Forum survey are many of the same groups that Fair Housing is seeking to protect: females, single heads of households, minorities. The NAR® Code of Ethics Preamble states it quite succinctly: “Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization.”

It Took a Tragedy to Pass the Fair Housing Act

1966 and 1967

Attempts were made to pass a fair housing act without success. It failed to pass one of the houses of Congress or competing bills would pass in each house and then die during the reconciliation process

July 1967

President Lyndon B. Johnson created the National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders (commonly referred to as the Kerner Commission) to address the riots and protests. Among those selected for the committee was Edward Brooke [R-MA], the first Black lawmaker to serve in the Senate since reconstruction and the first to be popularly elected to the position.

President Johnson asked them to address the following questions: What is the Civil Order we are seeing? Why is it happening? How to keep it from happening again?

February 29, 1968

The Kerner Commission issued their report. They called for:

1.Eliminate barriers to choice (antidiscrimination), 

2.Remove the frustration of powerlessness (empowerment), and

3.Increase contact across racial lines to destroy stereotypes and hostility (integration)

April 4, 1968

The Senate breaks a filibuster of the Fair Housing legislation. There had been 41 attempts to break a filibuster in Senate history at that point and only 7 of those attempts had succeeded. Members of the Kerner Commission, Walter Mondale [D-MN] and Edward Brooke [R-MA] in particular, were asked to speak out in bi-partisan support of the legislation and are credited with the narrow passage by the Senate.

It was believed to have little to no hope of passing in the House of Representatives.

A Few Hours Later . . . Just Before 6:00pm on April 4, 1968

Martin Luther King, Jr steps out of his room and onto the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. At 6:01pm: Martin Luther King, Jr is shot and rushed to the hospital. He is pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 7:05pm.

The Week that Followed

  • Thursday, April 4: Martin Luther King, Jr is killed

  • Sunday, April 7: President Johnson declares a national day of mourning.

  • Monday, April 8: Members of the King family travel to Memphis to support the sanitation worker which had been the purpose of MLK's visit.

  • Tuesday, April 9: The funeral takes place at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • April 5 - 9: Johnson was pushing the House of Representatives to pass the Senate's version of the bill as a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr who had been associated with the right to housing.

  • Wednesday, April 10: The House passes the Senate version of the bill.

  • Thursday, April 11: The President signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which contains the Fair Housing Act as Article VIII.

Work Still to be Done

The original act did not cover many of today's protected classes. The original law protected race, color, religion and national origin. Sex (gender) was added in 1974. Familial status and disability were added in 1988. It is not a stagnant document. It's meaning and application will change as the world changes.

Those working in real estate have to keep current with the requirements and concerns.

  1. Real estate professionals often work with clients who want to be steered to areas with particular racial, ethnic or religious groups. Even the HUD Assistance for Secretary for Fair Housing tripped over the legal requirements and had to backtrack on this issue.

  2. The discussion of schools has to be viewed through the eyes of the buyer and not our own assumptions in order to provide equal professional services.

  3. Disparate impact analysis in an age where each change of presidential administration changes the goals and application of the law is very problematic regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on.

  4. The NAR® Clear Cooperation Policy is national but there are no consistent national policies and procedures in the 500+ MLSs in the United States.

  5. Agents must advertise in a way that is both effective and in compliance with Fair Housing. We all know words matter but we also feel like word choice has become in unwinnable mine field.

  6. Love Letters used to only be silly or a slight annoyance. They are now labelled by NAR® as Liability Letters.

I will spend the month of April discussing all of these areas of concern with a variety of real estate groups. I will continue to address fair housing and access to housing information when this month ends.

Despite its shortcomings and all of the complications, let's still take a moment to celebrate the passage of the Fair Housing Act 55 years ago. It took sacrifice and perseverance. It was also just another step so let's keep stepping.

2020 FHA Reasonable Accomodation Analysis and Guidance
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HUD Fair Housing Advertising Guidelines
Download PDF • 111KB

HUD 1995 Advertising Memo
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Cheryl Conner King

Closing Attorney | REALTOR® | Podcaster | Real Estate Instructor

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