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Fair housing is the right to live where you choose and can afford to regardless of your race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status or disability.
The concept of fair housing is important because where you live affects your quality of life. It determines the employment opportunities available to you, transportation options, food accessibility, the schools your children will attend and more.
Denying a person housing or treating her differently because of the protected classes stated above constitutes housing discrimination. Examples may include 1) being denied an apartment because you have children or are from a different country; 2) being charged a higher deposit because of your race; or 3) being denied a reasonable accommodation if you have a disability, such as an assigned parking space or a first-floor unit.
While various laws protect fair housing, the most frequently cited is the Fair Housing Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968, seven days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The act was designed to address the racial segregation and housing discrimination taking place in our country. It specifically listed race, color, national origin and religion as protected classes and was later amended to expand protections based on gender, familial status and disability.
Since the signing of the act more than 50 years ago, we have seen improvements, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
In 2017, the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana conducted fair housing testing in Indianapolis and found that 19 of the 25 tests completed showed differential treatment favoring the white tester over the black tester. This meant qualified black individuals experienced discrimination 76 percent of the time they were seeking housing. These tests showed that white testers, despite being slightly less qualified than corresponding black testers, were told of lower deposits, more favorable fees and lower rent.
Further, the annual report of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity revealed that in 2017 there were 8,186 housing discrimination complaints filed nationally, with 59.4 percent based on disability discrimination and 26 percent based on race discrimination. Indiana ranked 10th for the most complaints filed, with a total of 236.
According to the City of Fort Wayne Metropolitan Human Relations Commission annual report, 48 housing discrimination cases were filed in Fort Wayne in 2018; of those investigated, 47 percent were based on disability and 24 percent on race. These statistics reveal that our community continues to struggle with fair housing, and we as a community must take steps to recognize and address housing discrimination.
What can each of us do to make sure we are advancing fair housing?
First, understand what housing discrimination is and know your fair housing rights. This will enable you to help yourself and others by recognizing when something isn't right. If you are a landlord or housing provider, educating yourself will also help you stay in compliance with fair housing laws. The local civil rights agency, Metro, is a resource that provides free training to housing providers.
Second, educate yourself on the fair housing issues affecting our neighborhoods by looking to resources such as the city's Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice Report, the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation Vulnerable Populations Study, or the local civil rights agency's website or Facebook page. Attend fair housing events, fairs or forums that are happening throughout the city.
Lastly, support those community organizations promoting fair housing for all. These organizations work tirelessly to empower citizens of their rights under the law and improve their quality of life. The key is to recognize we have fair housing issues and educate ourselves concerning those issues.
Together we can continue to encourage fair housing so everyone can feel welcome in Fort Wayne.
Nikki Quintana is executive director of the Fort Wayne Metropolitan Human Relations Commission.