3 Ways the Fair Housing Act Falls Short and How to Advocate for Yourself

Apr 22, 2024 | Policy Blog |

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) states that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) prevents direct providers of housing from discriminating against persons due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. The purpose of the act is to promote equity in housing opportunities that these identifying features could limit. When the act was first passed, in 1968, it was meant as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.1 Recently, in 2021, the federal government expanded enforcement of the FHA to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Some states, including Pennsylvania, also provide protections for individuals who are discriminated against for sexual orientation or gender identity, as do some municipalities. Despite these expansions, the FHA falls short - explore how here:

1. Breadth

Though the FHA covers “family status” and “sex” as discrimination categories, it does not cover all family statuses, such as single parents. Family status is meant as a term to cover discrimination against families with children or persons who are pregnant. “Sex” had to be explicitly expanded in 2021 to include gender identity and sexual orientation, and HUD still has nothing listed under examples2 of discrimination against LGBTQ persons, while providing examples for all other categories. HUD does offer a separate guide for LGBTQ persons who are facing discrimination.3 Additionally, the law does not cover landlord-occupied buildings with four or fewer units, housing operated by religious groups or private clubs, and single-family homes directly sold or rented by the owner.4 In many areas, smaller rentals like these are the most accessible and affordable to marginalized groups.

2. Enforcement

Enforcement of the FHA requires a high level of legal literacy on the part of the wronged person. Knowledge of the laws, access to reporting methods, and time and resources to pursue justice are all required for the person to act. In many cases, the person may not even know they were wronged, as landlords may say things such as they “just rented the last apartment” or they’ll “let you know as soon as one is available,” or they charge fees they know will be prohibitive. Often, the search is so overwhelming that people lose track of where they’ve applied or assume that nothing is available if they don’t hear back.

3. Current Policy Proposals/Changes

Legislators in Pennsylvania have introduced bills to protect those searching for housing, especially those who’ve interacted with the justice system. Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Bullock proposed a bill in 2016 that would prevent landlords from asking about or requiring applicants to disclose some arrest records — such as juvenile records, arrests with no convictions, convictions other than felonies or misdemeanors, or convictions older than seven years — as a condition of housing. The bill was not passed then, but Bullock reintroduced the bill this April as House Bill 96.5 Conditions in the PA House look favorable for Fair Housing legislation, as the Pennsylvania House Housing and Community Development Committee unanimously advanced multiple Fair Housing-related bills in February 2024. A list of current legislation, as well as committee transcripts and reports, can be found here. The legislation also addresses affordable and accessible housing, often tied in the public’s mind to Fair Housing.

Federally, the Fair Housing Improvement Act of 2023, introduced by Senator Tim Caine of Virginia,6 would expand the Fair Housing Act to include discrimination based on source of income, veteran status, or military status. The proposed act is currently in the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and is in hearings. If passed, the act would provide additional protection against discrimination to those receiving housing vouchers, rental assistance, and other subsidies from both government and private agencies, which are often disclosed during the housing application process.

What to do if you feel you have been discriminated against in housing:

Housing discrimination can be reported locally and federally. Federally, you can file a complaint online, by phone, or by mail at: https://www.hud.gov/fairhousing/fileacomplaint or 800-669-9777.

Locally, you can find your state’s fair housing assistance program here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/partners/FHAP/agencies

Private fair housing organizations also advocate on applicants’ behalf. A list of organizations by state can be found here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/contact_fhip

 

References:

  1. History of Fair Housing. US Department of Housing and Urban Development. https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/aboutfheo/history
  2. Examples of Housing Discrimination. HUD. https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/examples_housing_discrimination
  3. Housing Discrimination and Persons Identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and/or Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ). HUD. https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/housing_discrimination_and_persons_identifying_lgbtq
  4. Housing Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act. HUD. https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview#_What_Types_of
  5. PA General Assembly. Bill Information. Retrieved 4/13/24 from: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/billInfo.cfm?sYear=2023&sInd=0&body=H&type=B&bn=0096
  6. Congress.Gov. S.1267 – Fair Housing Improvement Act of 2023. Retrieved 4/13/24 from https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/1267/text?s=1&r=22

 

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About The Author

Anna Bechtel is a Nurse-Family Partnership Nurse Home Visitor.

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