April is Fair Housing Month, a campaign brought to you by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA). The goal is to educate the public and housing providers about their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act. We’d like to do our part by posting a few Q & A sessions with ACCC’s Housing Counseling Manager, Scott Withiam. Take it away, Scott!
For a refresher – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was known as the Fair Housing Act, and it prohibited housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Over time, the Act has been amended to protect seven different classes. The seven protected classes, as they’re known, are race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap, and familial status.
Question: I thought that Fair Housing Laws had more to do with something like a landlord refusing to rent to a single mother with four kids?
That’s right. As a rule, most Fair Housing cases or abuses concern rental and sales practices, like a real estate salesperson steering a Hispanic family away from renting in a “white” neighborhood, or a neighborhood resisting the building of homes for persons with disabilities or persons with low incomes (called NIMBYism – Not In My BackYard).
NIMBY? I thought that was that green clay character that . . .
No. That’s Gumby. There’s no Gumbyism.
Fair Housing concerns small and large cases. It can concern the disparate distribution of quality municipal services or transportation, for example, improvements made to roads in wealthy sections and no improvements to poor sections.
Or Fair Housing can concern the use of zoning codes or tax laws to prohibit equal housing opportunity.
Or Fair Housing can concern lending and property insurance practices. No lender can refuse to make a mortgage loan based on any of the seven protected classes, or refuse to provide information regarding loans, or discriminate in appraising property or set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan (red lining) in higher areas of risk.
No one can refuse to rent or sell or negotiate because of race, religion, family status, etc. And no one can set different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rent in order to discourage those classes from housing opportunities. And no one can provide different housing services or facilities based on those protected classes. They can’t falsely persuade any of the protected classes to rent or sell for reasons of profit (blockbusting), and they flat out can’t deny that housing is available to buy or rent, if it is available.
So if you saw or experienced something like any of the abuses – big or small, there are a number of ways to report. Foremost, you can file a housing discrimination complaint online at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_discrimination. The toll free number for the Boston area is (800) 827-5005.
You can also report to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Hotline as well as get help. The number is (800) 896-7743. Go to the DOJ website, http://justice.gov/crt/about/hce/housing?coverage.php, for more information on the Fair Housing Act.
For Fair Housing Advocacy help in western Massachusetts, go to http://www.massfairhousing.org. For advocacy help in the Boston area, there’s the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, www.bostonfairhousing.com, Boston Fair Housing Commission, (617) 635-4408, and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, (617) 727-3990.
Or anyone can call the ACCC Housing Counseling Department for help. 800-769-3571 ext. 1918
Question: I’ve heard that they don’t punish people who break the protections and intent behind the Fair Housing Act, so why bother reporting?
Well, there have been big financial penalties wielded against banks, developers, even other government entities. In many smaller cases, mediation, reconciliation, and education are involved. To my way of thinking, we punish ourselves and our communities, if discrimination is allowed to flourish.
If you haven’t already, check out Fair Housing Questions with Scott: Part 1 for more information n the Fair Housing Act.