What do inclusive communities mean to you? How can we ensure our communities are genuinely open to all? At Open Communities, we know one critical component for inclusivity is the ability for everyone to access housing without the fear or barrier of discrimination.
September 15-October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month, when we celebrate the history and culture of Latine and Hispanic communities in the U.S. Unfortunately, rather than being celebrated, some Latine renters and home seekers are discriminated against due to their race, color, language, or national origin.
Our newest Community Navigator, Mayra Moreno explains, “Today, I know that the simple fact that my skin color is brown, that my last name is Latino, and that my features show that I am Latina/Hispanic makes me more susceptible to racial discrimination. It doesn't matter if you speak English, have documents, or even if you go to college... The fight for justice and equality is a recurring fact.”
As Chicago becomes home to thousands of migrants, working to create more welcoming communities could not be more urgent. The ongoing wave of arrivals has been met with mixed responses: on the one hand, we have seen community members show up for each other, mobilizing to meet the needs of our new neighbors and exemplifying what it means to put community care into action; on the other hand, we have seen the backlash and xenophobia that can often become amplified whenever a community receives a wave of migration. The world of housing is not untouched by this xenophobia and racism.
Mayra shares, “Since the beginning of my career, I have been working with 80-90% of people who speak Spanish. I remember the case of a single mother with two daughters who was looking for an apartment to live in. The owner of the property rented it without appliances. She had to work to raise money to buy her first stove and refrigerator. When she found a new place to live, she tried to sell the appliances to the same owner. She was accused of trying to rob him and had to move. The owner threatened to take her to court and open an investigation with Immigration. As she had no documents, she had to leave her appliances there and even lost her money from the deposit.” As a bilingual/ bicultural Community Navigator for Open Communities, Mayra joins our team to provide outreach to the community, including our Spanish-speaking neighbors, to educate about fair housing rights and assist in navigating complicated systems.
The 2023 Fair Housing Trends Report by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) notes, “The fifth most frequent basis [of housing discrimination complaints] was national origin, with 1,635 reported complaints (4.95 percent of all complaints.)” These numbers may be vast underestimates of the real problem, given the precarity of immigration status and the pervasive and well-founded lack of trust in institutions.
National origin discrimination in housing transactions may look like:
A landlord offering different rental terms or conditions to a family because of their national
origin or requiring additional documentation with their application.
A leasing agent steering Dominican applicants to apartments in predominantly Dominican neighborhoods.
A landlord neglecting the maintenance needs of tenants due to prejudices against their ethnic practices or other cultural expression (such as wearing a Muslim hijab or Sikh pagri).
A property management company refusing to rent to a prospective tenant because their primary language is not English.
A housing provider making threats of calling ICE on a Latine family when a tenant is attempting to exercise their fair housing rights.
Additional forms of housing discrimination may overlap or have a larger impact on immigrants and communities of color. The NFHA report emphasizes, “source of income discrimination, which includes the use of Housing Choice Vouchers, may be a camouflage for race and National Origin based discrimination since Blacks and Latinos use Vouchers at a higher rate than their White counterparts.”
Housing protections that prohibit discrimination based on national origin, immigration status, and source of income, among others, are as important as ever – but we need everyone’s help to educate the community and hold violators of the law accountable. You can send Open Communities anonymous tips on discriminatory practices you see in the community by clicking here so we can investigate them and enforce Fair Housing laws.
Do you know your housing rights?
Read on to learn more about some of the protections available under federal and state laws, and educate yourself on how to make our communities more welcoming for everyone:
Protected Class: National Origin (federal level)
National origin is one of the 7 federally protected classes under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), meaning that housing discrimination against an individual based on their national origin is illegal. National origin
refers to the country in which you or your family was born, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has defined national origin discrimination to consist of different treatment in housing because of a person’s ancestry, ethnicity, birthplace, culture, or language. The Fair Housing Act also makes it clear that everyone is covered and can file a claim, regardless of whether they are citizens or not. Additionally, perception and association are also covered under the Act, meaning that if a housing provider perceives you to be of a certain national origin, even incorrectly, and discriminates against you because of that perception, this is still considered illegal discrimination under the FHA.
Protected Class: Immigration Status (State of Illinois)
Senate Bill 1817 passed this legislative session and went on to be signed into law by Gov. Pritzker on June 30th. This bill will make Immigration Status a protected class in the State of Illinois as of January 1st, 2024. This bill's passage is a major win for immigrant communities and for those who support human rights in Illinois. This means it will now be illegal for housing providers to discriminate against someone due to their immigration status (or perceived immigration status). With immigration status becoming a protected class in Illinois, individuals who experience housing discrimination based on their immigration status will now have an avenue to pursue further action by filing a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
Protected Class: Traits associated with race, ethnicity, or caste (Cook County)
On Thursday, July 20th, 2023 the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to pass amendments to
the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (CCHRO) to include protections in employment and housing for “traits associated with race, ethnicity, or caste.” An example of traits associated with race include hair texture or protective hairstyles. This amendment to the CCHRO provides more comprehensive protections for individuals who may face race-based discrimination, or discrimination based on national origin (claims which may often overlap). If you have experienced discrimination based on traits associated with race, ethnicity, or caste, you have a right to pursue further action through filing a complaint with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights. Open Communities can help you navigate this process and advise you on filing a complaint.
How You Can Help
At Open Communities, we believe that housing is a fundamental human right, as well as a cornerstone for community stability. The enforcement of these protections is crucial in working to create a community where all our neighbors, no matter where they are from, can access housing free from discrimination.
As Mayra asserts, “The struggle for equality and respect for others is something that must still be worked on to make a transcendental change and eradicate discrimination in our communities.”
Community awareness around the rights available to us is key, and you can play an important role in fair housing enforcement by spreading the word about these protections to your neighbors! If you or someone you know has experienced housing discrimination and would like support to take further action, contact Open Communities to speak with our understanding, dedicated staff. Let’s work together to be sure our communities are truly welcoming to all.