April is Fair Housing Month. It commemorates the landmark legislation signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968—just days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4.
The act prohibited housing discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. Discrimination based on sex was added in 1974. A 1988 amendment added important protections for people with disabilities and familial status.
Legacy of MLK
King, who had been on the front lines on the fight for fair housing, believed that open housing was the foundation for a truly integrated and equal society. Throughout the 20th century, racially restrictive covenants, deeds and leases were used to prevent people of color from renting and purchasing homes in white communities. Redlining—the refusal to back mortgages on properties located in or near black communities—was another common practice.
President Johnson utilized the national tragedy of MLK’s death to urge Congress to quickly pass the historic legislation. The act “proclaims that fair housing for all, all human beings who live in this country, is now a part of the American way of life," Johnson said. But at the signing, he acknowledged that the law was only the first step.
Fair Housing Today
Fifty years after 1968, the struggle for fair housing continues. While the Fair Housing Act was successful in striking down laws that permitted discriminatory housing practices, geographic segregation—as well as resulting economic, educational and health inequalities—continued in many communities. Today, HUD and its fair housing partners receive nearly 30,000 complaints a year alleging discrimination.
Although the dream of fair housing still has a ways to go before it is fully realized in the United States, MWHS is firmly committed to upholding the fair housing law and offering equal service and opportunity to all in their search for a safe, decent and affordable place to live. One of the most important ways we create a culture that promotes housing equality is through annual Fair Housing Training—an intensive, mandatory course that all staff must take every two years. We are also proud to be a part of the Lakewood community—a city that is working on building an inclusive community.
This month, we hope you will join us in reflecting on the history and legacy of the Fair Housing Act and to envision a future where there is equal opportunity in every community.
Megan Schmidt is a staff writer at Metro West Housing Solutions.