I pass the above billboard, paid for by the National Fair Housing Alliance, each day on my way to work. It brings a number of issues to mind.
(Begin disclaimer.) As a caveat to keep the easily offended from being seized with apoplexy, I understand discrimination still exists. It likely always will. This is not an attempt to diminish or disregard the impact of discrimination in housing. (End disclaimer.)
That said, the billboard is an appeal to emotion, and not a very good one at that.
The average 6-year-old boy’s “dream home,” at least from what I can recall, is a pillow fort made from couch cushions.
Any bank making a loan to a 6-year old would, of course, be hauled before regulators and hit with sanctions, unless the 6-year-old was a pop music wonderkid, ala Michael Jackson, 1965.
Finally, I know of very few recent instances of individuals or organizations discriminating against others when it comes to selling homes. It seems illogical to turn down someone else’s money when you’re trying to sell your home.
A glance at the website for National Fair Housing Alliance – a Washington, DC, operation which touts itself as “the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing” – shows very little actual activity in this area. And it’s safe to say that this organization, begun in 1988, would be promoting such cases in order to rationalize its existence. Under “enforcement” is the following:
- Last December, the National Fair Housing Alliance and 20 local fair housing organizations from across the US filed a housing discrimination lawsuit against Fannie Mae in federal district court in San Francisco, alleging Fannie Mae purposely failed to maintain its foreclosures in middle- and working-class African American and Latino neighborhoods to the same level of quality it does for foreclosures it owns in white middle- and working-class neighborhoods;
- Last August, the NFHA and nine local fair housing organizations filed an amended discrimination complaint against Bank of America alleging illegal discrimination by the bank in black and Latino neighborhoods; and
- In May 2016, NFHA announced it had filed a federal lawsuit alleging race, sex, and source-of-income discrimination against Travelers Indemnity Co. for failing to provide habitational insurance to apartment owners who rent to tenants who participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program.
That means over the past year, the only activities that this entity has seen fit to post to the “enforcement” section of its website are lawsuits that it has filed. No resolutions of cases. And filing a lawsuit hardly qualifies as “enforcement.”
If one looks at the NFHA’s “news & media” section, one finds press releases for the following:
- A Seventh Circuit panel unanimously affirming a preliminary injunction that required the Kenosha Unified School District in Wisconsin to permit a 17-year-old transgender boy to use the boys’ restrooms at his high school; and
- The results of the fourth annual National Fair Housing Alliance poetry slam. “Poetry slams are our opportunity to connect creative arts with social justice,” according to the organization.
There are also press releases announcing a settlement between Bank of America and the National Fair Housing Alliance Reach in a mortgage loan case, and the Supreme Court upholding the right of cities to sue banks whose practices harm the municipalities and their residents.
The last two have a direct tie to the NFHA’s mission; the first two seem a bit off the reservation for an organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing.
Finally, consider this from the NFHA’s annual Fair Housing Trends Report, issued April 19, 2017, which documents “continued patterns of discrimination and segregation and highlighting fair housing trends in 2016.”
“We are one year away from commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act which was passed just seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April, 1968,” said Shanna Smith, president and CEO of NFHA. “Some advances have been made in opening up neighborhoods to everyone; however, people of color, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups continue to be unlawfully shut out of many neighborhoods that provide quality schools and health care, fresh food, employment opportunities, quality and affordable credit, small business investment, and other opportunities that affect life outcomes.”
Some advances? There were many, many neighborhoods from which minorities were excluded in 1968, either de jure or de facto, and there wasn’t a great deal they could do about it. Those that fought against such discrimination were often harassed, and those who dared move into white neighborhoods were many times treated extremely harshly, even violently. Those actions, as near as I can tell, are largely absent today.
Were such actions taking place, the media would highlight them in great detail.
If people of color, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups are unlawfully shut out of neighborhoods today, there are remedies that authorities are more than willing to employ, and rightfully so.
If, however, groups such as the NFHA feel the need to downplay success in opening up housing opportunities for all so that they can continue to garner funding and have a viable reason to remain in operation, that doesn’t speak very highly about it as an organization.