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The Future of Fair Housing

by Leslie Fowle | Nov 06, 2018
This year marked the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which was enacted nationally in 1968 to prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin. If you have been following along here in Bay State Realtor® Magazine, you know that we honored this important moment in American history by covering different aspects of the law in each issue: its history, how it's applied in Massachusetts, and how the law relates to specific issues like lead paint and health.
In the last few months of 2018, we would like to take a look toward the future, the modern issues that threaten equal opportunity in housing, and the steps Realtors® can take to advocate for and further the important ideals of the Fair Housing Act first laid forth 50 years ago.
Looking ahead, it would be hard to ignore the influence technology has had on fair housing issues. Social media and the “shared economy” have given everyone with access to the internet a voice but have also given individuals the power to discriminate in online public platforms (both intentionally and not.) In August, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) lodged a complaint against Facebook accusing the social media giant of enabling discriminatory practices in advertisements for housing. In response, Facebook removed more than 5,000 ad target options—including demographic targets aimed at ethnicity and religion—to “help prevent misuse,” according to the company. NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall issued a letter in support of HUD’s measures to protect fair housing practices. 

In a similar vein, mounting complaints against home-sharing platform AirBnB have forced the company to increase their capacity to handle complaints and educate hosts and staff in bias and anti-discrimination. In a settlement with the State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing last year, AirBnB agreed to “a progressive system of counseling, warning, and disciplines” to deal with discrimination complaints. As more people use these social platforms to sell, buy, and share their homes, it is imperative that fair housing protections extend to the virtual world.

Offline, the number of reports of discrimination and hate crimes related to housing show that the nation still has some work to do ensuring safety and equal opportunities for all. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance’s 2017 Fair Housing Trends Report, there were 28,181 reported complaints of housing discrimination in 2016. Also, according to the NFHA, there has been a recent surge in hate crimes, harassment, and housing-related hate activity.

The latest data from the FBI indicates that hate crimes have been on the rise since 2014, with 6,121 reported cases in 2016. More recent data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino suggests that hate crimes in the 10 largest U.S. cities increased to the highest level in more than a decade this year. The NFHA has specifically called on governing bodies to apply fair housing laws to counteract this surge in activity. 

Expanding fair housing laws in the future also includes the current fight for specific language protecting the LGBTQ community from housing discrimination on a national scale. Currently, more than half of states have no fair housing laws to protect against sexual identity and gender identity discrimination. The National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) have called on Realtors® to support the Equality Act, a bipartisan bill that would provide non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community in a number of areas including housing. In response, that National Association of Realtors® (NAR) vowed public support of NAGLREP and to “actively recommend and seek legislation to provide for equal housing opportunity on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Despite challenges, Realtors® are in a unique position to lead the charge toward equal protection under the Fair Housing Act. Now is the time for you to redouble efforts to understand fair housing laws at the state and national level. Any discrimination should be reported to HUD and other organizations, such as the Massachusetts Commission Against  Discrimination. Participate in your community, and engage in local debates concerning segregation, gentrification, and equal housing opportunity. With your help, Realtors® can lead the way to the future of fair housing.