NewsKey Takeaways from NPLS' Fair Housing Forum

Key Takeaways from NPLS' Fair Housing Forum

A forum was held on April 21st to provide education on fair housing law and how to enforce these important rights.  It was an engaging event with several top notch speakers including Professor Ira Goldstein, Ph.D, President, Policy Solutions, Reinvestment Fund and Rachel Wentworth, Executive Director, Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.  There was also a panel discussing case studies consisting of Justin Porembo, CEO of Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, Marielle Macher, Attorney at Law for the Community Justice Project, Rebecca Strobel, MSW for the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living, and two of NPLS’ attorneys – Irene Montero-Harris and Carrie Ann Ploppert.

An overarching theme throughout the day centered on the importance of education as a key to the process of ending housing discrimination.  The Forum sought to educate professionals who frequently serve individuals within the protected classes as well as the individuals themselves so as to empower them to know and fight for their rights

As most in attendance knew, the Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against individuals of a protected class (race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status) in a housing transaction.  The day was spent dissecting this law – what constituted a housing transaction, how discrimination affects our communities, steps to take once discriminatory practice had been identified as well as the intricacies of the protections offered to protected classes.

Key learnings included: 

·         Housing transactions are not just the renting and buying of a property.  The Fair Housing Act also protects against any housing transaction including the buying of Homeowners Insurance.   This means a member of a protected class cannot be offered different terms when buying homeowners insurance.  A homeowner’s insurance agency cannot impose different terms nor refuse to offer coverage for homes that are known to be located in minority neighborhoods.

·          You can never use discriminatory language in any housing advertisement.  Discriminatory ad language includes describing characteristics of a desired occupant.  This includes placing ads on websites such as Craigslist as well as in local newspapers.

·         Evicted tenants move to higher crime and poverty neighborhoods with observable racial disparities. 

o   This is a good reminder to ensure evictions are properly taking place and protections such as reasonable accommodations are being requested and accepted.

o   In some instances, simply making a change to a rule or regulation would prevent an individual from being evicted.

Professor Goldstein who authored the book “The Wrong Side of the Tracks:  A study of residential segregation in Philadelphia, 1930 – 1980” wisely pointed out:  The Fair Housing Act should be interpreted to not only to promote greater choices in housing, but explicitly to be pro-integrative.  We need to make sure housing choices available are truly available and not just available on paper

Availability includes renting, selling, negotiating as well as making sure an individual can use and enjoy their property (i.e., allowing an occupant to install a chair lift on their stairs so that a mobility challenged individual can access their second floor) and making sure an occupant understands the rules and their responsibilities as a tenant (i.e., making sure an individual that is Limited English proficiency (LEP) has the opportunity to have an interpreter explain the rules or translate documents to them in their language).

As the Forum reminded us, it is important to remember where we came from to ensure the path we are on is meeting our goals.  The Fair Housing Act was initially enacted during a time when segregation was very much alive.  A time when a National Advisory Commission had to be developed to gain an understanding of why riots were breaking out in cities across America.  The result of this study, known as the Kerner Report concluded that America was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”  The Fair Housing Act sought to add balance to housing conditions.  The slides in the following link, provided by Professor Goldstein demonstrate neighborhood racial integration from 1940s – 2010s.  http://northpennlegal.org/resources/fair-housing-presentation-ira-goldstein

While improvements have been made, we still have a long road ahead to make sure everyone has the right for fair and equal enjoyment of their home.