Fifty-three years ago, on April 11, the idea of fair housing shifted from a dream to a reality.
With the signing of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act became the law throughout the United States, prohibiting discrimination in housing transactions. Millions of people of all races, creeds, ethnicities, and more were given a sword to fight against the systemic and individual racism endemic in this country. While America has come far since the days of Jim Crow and de facto segregation, there is still a long way to go to make housing fully integrated, available and affordable, especially in the Chicago area.
Today's Fair Housing Goals - Compliance and Community
In a very general sense, we can view the fair housing movement’s goals in two ways: Compliance and Community. Compliance refers to the obedience to federal, state, and local laws. Are housing providers abiding by the requirements of the Fair Housing Act? Is this housing unit available to all applicants? Does this housing policy treat all applicants the same? Ensuring legal conformity throughout an area is a hefty portion of what fair housing organizations like Open Communities do. However, securing compliance is the easier of the two intentions.
On the other hand, community involves building an integrated and welcoming place for all people to live. Housing affects many different aspects of a person’s life—where will my kids go to school? What church will I go to? Is there a grocery store nearby? No matter the color of their skin, where they are from, or who they love, everyone is entitled to live in the place that best answers these questions and offers the best opportunities.
Integrating neighborhoods, however, can only go so far in achieving community. Individuals need to go that extra step to make their neighbors feel welcome in their homes while understanding cultural differences and committing to being antiracist. Property developers need to prioritize the construction and accessibility of affordable housing in high opportunity areas. Local municipalities need to encourage and support services created by and that cater to diverse populations, such as restaurants, barbershops, groceries, or community centers. Only when people truly feel a sense of belonging and comfort in their neighborhood can we achieve community.
April - Time to Reflect on Fair Housing Goals
April is an important month to reflect on the importance of the fair housing movement’s goals due to the historical connotations and because April typically ushers in a new season of housing activity. The warmer spring and summer months see a dramatic increase in apartment rentals and home sales, opening the door for more discrimination to occur. Combined with the impending housing crisis caused by Covid 19 and the eventual end of eviction moratoriums, this upcoming housing season has the potential to get quite ugly. Despite the approaching turbulence, society should seize this opportunity not just to achieve compliance but also perpetuate community by intentionally creating an empathic, accessible, and fair place to live.