Recognizing the Importance of Fair Housing

May 2, 2019

Over the past half-century since the landmark Federal Fair Housing Act was signed into law, much progress has been made to ensure that all people of Louisiana have open and equal access to housing.

This vital effort is ongoing and requires a continued commitment to the principles of fair housing — as well as a dedication to educating the public about the law.

In recent years, the Louisiana Housing Corporation has developed a renewed focus on fair housing as we continue to fulfill our mission to ensure that every resident of the state is granted an opportunity to obtain safe, affordable, energy-efficient housing and related services.

There’s no better time to raise awareness about this important issue than Fair Housing month, which takes place each year in recognition of the passage of the Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968 — a landmark law designed to protect people from discrimination when renting or buying property.

As we mark this important milestone in our nation’s history, let’s take a few minutes to dive into the world of fair housing.

Why Fair Housing Matters

A variety of state and federal laws require nondiscrimination and equal access to housing for people, but these legal requirements all stem from the Federal Fair Housing Act, which was signed into law on April 11, 1968, just one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The law was amended in 1974 and 1988 to expand the Fair Housing Act to protect seven characteristics: race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status and national origin.

Lenders and other real estate professionals must work to ensure that their practices allow all buyers or renters access to the same housing opportunities. Noncompliance with fair housing laws can carry huge consequences. Unlawful discrimination can cost money and negatively impact your reputation.

Housing providers — those in the business of renting, managing, selling, financing or providing other housing-related services — must also understand the law.

For starters, the Fair Housing Act expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin for and therefore, provides protection to immigrants against discrimination, regardless of their legal status in the United States.

Disability-related complaints remain among the most common type of fair-housing issues we see in our work at the LHC. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is against the law to ask about a disability (unless they are requesting a reasonable accommodation or applying for housing that gives priority to persons with disabilities). Housing providers are also barred from asking a person with a disability to prove he or she can live independently.

Landlords must also often make reasonable accommodations to eliminate or mitigate barriers preventing people with disabilities from fully participating in a housing opportunity. For example, if a tenant receives his SSI check on the third of each month, but rent is due on the first, the landlord could agree to accept the rent late without imposing a late fee.

Supporting Outreach and Education

In Louisiana, the enforcement of fair housing complaints is handled by the Attorney General’s Office. At LHC, our fair-housing focus has been directed at providing fair housing related services including education and outreach to all involved in the housing process — from developers and landlords to realtors, tenants and homebuyers.

We regularly provide fair housing education to first-time homebuyers, as well as affordable housing providers and supportive service professionals. We’ve also worked to foster important discussions among leaders in the state housing landscape about fair housing issues.

For example, I had the opportunity at the LHC’s recent inaugural Connections conference to appear on a panel with leading fair housing experts, who shared best practices on the future of fair housing and how to avoid unlawful and unintended discrimination.

Finally, the LHC Board of Directors recently passed a resolution commemorating the 51st Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and declared April 2019 as Fair Housing Month. It also encourages all agencies, institutions and individuals, public and private, in Louisiana to abide by the letter and the spirit of the Fair Housing Act.

This April, we should all take a moment and consider how we can do our part to ensure equal and open access to housing for all the people of Louisiana.

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