April, as you might have heard is Fair Housing Month, commemorating April 1968 when President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law just days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The historic act, Johnson, said, represented a new era where fair housing would become “a part of the American way of life.”
Of course, the work continues, and the vision expands. As HUD Assistant Secretary John Trasvina noted in a recent blog post, “By itself, the Fair Housing Act does not end barriers to living free from discrimination. That cause depends upon vigorous civil rights law enforcement, sustained public education, working with housing providers and the real estate industry, and ensuring that HUD’s own house is in order.”
More, in our interview with Trasvina, he pointed to the fact that HUD receives 10,000 discrimination complaints each year. And it’s not just communities of color, as the Fair Housing Act was born out of the Civil Rights movement. In the 21st century, we see more and more discrimination in other communities: disabled, LGBT, single parents, and more.
One of the great things about the Fair Housing Act is that it is a mirror image of some of the greatest movements in our nation’s history. The women’s movement of the 1960s, for example, eventually led to the inclusion of gender discrimination in the Fair Housing Act in 1974. In 1988, the act recognized the history of discrimination in housing against families with children and people with disabilities.
So as we are now in the 21st century, beyond our focus on the existing statute, we are also looking at the conditions of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) people, and looking at source-of-income discrimination. We have to be a civil rights office that is relevant to the 21st century. This means addressing the needs of newcomers and new families without forgetting the core issues of discrimination that formed the target of the ‘68 Act.
Trasvina acknowledged that success is difficult to document, but that now more than ever, there’s still work to be done.