How the Fair Housing Act Failed Black Homeowners

By on April 16, 2018

From CityLab: 

“Sue the bastards.”

That was the slogan adopted by the National Neighbors advocacy campaign for fair housing in 1970, two years after Congress passed the Fair Housing Act. At long last, black home buyers and renters were able to seek and find justice in the courts, in part because it was possible to demonstrate racially discriminatory practices among landlords and real-estate companies. President Donald Trump made his public debut in 1973 as just such a landlord, sued by the Department of Justice for discriminating against black tenants.

It was harder to sue the bastards when they were banks. Among the many provisions of the Fair Housing Act, the most difficult to enforce were the sanctions on lending. While private actors could test a landlord’s willingness to rent to a black applicant versus a white applicant, it was much harder to suss out discrimination in mortgage origination.

“The biggest banks—even in the 1960s, when most forms of interstate banking were illegal—were immense, formidable institutions,” write scholars Richard Sander, Yana Kucheva, and Jonathan Zasloff in their forthcoming history, Moving Toward Integration: The Past and Future of Fair Housing“Underwriting a mortgage was a much more involved process than deciding whether to rent to a tenant or sell to a prospective home buyer.”

The Fair Housing Act—which Congress passed 50 years ago today, on April 11, 1968—had an impact on sellers and renters that was quickly felt. Progress was slow, but progress was visible. It has taken much longer, however, to uproot redlining and other practices by which banks routinized racial discrimination.

Fifty years after the Fair Housing Act, the full historical weight of banks’ discriminatory practices is still evident in the persistent racial segregation of communities. While discrimination in lending is illegal, disparities in lending are enormous. According to an investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reportingearlier this year, African Americans and Latinos continue to be denied mortgages at far higher rates than whites in 61 metro areas. Using the data from Reveal and other sources, CityLab has visualized how that discrimination manifests itself in two of those cities.

Read more.


About Dede Hance