The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for financial institutions, home sellers and renters to engage in housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability (HUD.gov). Yet, discrimination continues at high rates. According to HUD, in 2008, the national numbers for discrimination complaints were at record highs: over 10,500 complaints received, 44% related to disability and 35% to race. In a recent interview, Nancy Haynes, Director of Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, stated that the agency received more discrimination complaints in 2009 than ever before- over 300 complaints from the region, mostly regarding familial status and race.
These records suggest that absent remedial changes in policy, discrimination practices in housing will persist. Perhaps, steeper penalties must be imposed to promote compliance. Certainly, more funding is needed for agencies to conduct their investigations and enforce laws-growing complaints requires more workers on the field. In addition, there is a need for policy to better inform the public of their legal duties and rights; people may be violating laws without even knowing it. Haynes added that many landlords receive poor training, if any at all- making them ignorant of fair housing laws. Placing ads that read, for examples, "Great home for small middle-class families" or "Apartment perfect for young newlyweds," seem innocent but violates the law. Realtors, on the other hand, receive training, but sometimes inadvertently engage in steering while acting in their clients' best interest. Improving public awareness may prove invaluable.
Housing discrimination based on sexual orientation is also a problem. A 2007 report by Michigan's Fair Housing Centers states that same-sex couples face much discrimination in housing. Testing showed that heterosexual couples were treated more favorably than same-sex couples: offered lower rents, given incentives to rent, and shown more properties (fhcmighigan.org). Since the Fair Housing Act does not include sexual orientation as a protected class, Michigan relies on state laws that prohibit discrimination based on marital status and sex (fhcmichigan.org). It seems that the moment has come for federal fair housing laws to shift with the times.
Grants of $1.1 million dollars will help fight discrimination in Michigan, but for how long? For policy to be effective, sufficient funds must be dedicated for its enforcement and promotion. Public awareness should be increased to serve as a preventative measure against housing discrimination. And policy ought to change to reflect social diversity. Legislating tolerance and equal opportunity are challenging enough. So, without more funding, fair housing laws may fail to protect the many decent people who are simply trying to find a place to live.
Haynes, Nancy. Personal interview. 1 Feb. 2010.
HUD.gov. U.S. Department of Housing and Development. Secretary Shaun Donovan. 01 April 2009. 29 Jan. 2010. http://portal.hud.gov/portal/page/portal/HUD/press/speeches_remarks_statements/speech_04012009
Michigan Fair Housing Centers: http://www.fhcmichigan.org/images/Arcus_web1.pdf
"Michigan Fair Housing Agencies Receive $1.1 Million from HUD." Grand Rapids Press. Online posting. 21 Jan. 2010. 25 Jan. 2010. http://www.mlive.com/business/west- michigan/index.ssf/2010/01/michigan_fair_housing_agencies.html