Open Occupancy Laws

It begins with some congratulations from Norman P. Mason, Commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration from 1954-59 and Administrator of the U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency from 1959-61. There is no need to think too much about how racist policies have become so ingrained both in politics and in the day-to-day practice of government agencies. The Department of Civil Rights (CRD) is responsible for enforcing state fair housing laws that make discrimination based on a protected characteristic illegal (see “What is Protected”). The law applies to landlords, tenant appraisal companies, property management companies, real estate agents, home sellers, builders, mortgage lenders and others. The law prohibits discrimination in all aspects of the housing sector, including rental or leasing, sale, mortgages and insurance, advertising, practices such as restrictive agreements and new construction. The first major victory for open housing came in 1948, when the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that the restrictive agreements were unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. This decision was partly the result of the agitation of black Chicagoans such as Earl Dickerson and Carl Hansberry. “Open living” refers to the goal of a single housing market in which a person`s background (as opposed to financial resources) does not arbitrarily restrict access. Calls for open housing were heard in the early twentieth century, but it was not until after World War II that concerted efforts were made to achieve them. The Fair Housing Act defines discrimination against persons with disabilities in housing as meaning that some new apartment buildings are not “designed and constructed” to be accessible and usable by persons with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users.

The law stipulates that all newly constructed residential buildings of four or more dwellings intended to be occupied in first possession after March 13, 1991 must have certain characteristics: an obstacle entrance on an accessible road, accessible areas for use by the public and the public, doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, accessible pathways in and through each unit, switches, outlets and thermostats in an accessible location, reinforcements in bathroom walls for grab bar installations, and usable kitchens and bathrooms configured to allow a wheelchair to maneuver around the room. Developers, builders, owners and architects responsible for the design or construction of new apartment buildings may be held liable under the Fair Housing Act if their buildings do not meet these design requirements. The Department of Justice has taken numerous enforcement actions against those who have not done so. Most cases have been resolved through Orders in Council of Approval that provide for various types of facilitations, including: retrofitting to inaccessible features where and where it is not accessible – alternatives (financial funds or other construction requirements) that allow for the accessibility of other housing; training on accessibility requirements for those involved in the construction process; A mandate that all new housing projects meet accessibility requirements and financial assistance for those harmed by violations. In addition, the ministry has worked to promote accessibility through building codes. There has been active lobbying for additional open housing laws in places as diverse as Nebraska, where the state`s unicameral legislature defeated such a bill by a 28-21 vote in June, and the Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., where open housing ordinances are being passed. The question was raised as to whether legal prohibitions on discrimination in the housing market were of practical value. It has even been argued that the promotion of open housing laws, by diverting attention from providing more supply of low-income housing, has done more harm than good to ghetto residents.

In cases of discrimination in mortgage or home renovation loans, the Ministry may prosecute under the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Department deals with cases where there are indications of a pattern or practice of discrimination, or where the denial of rights to a group of people raises an issue of importance to the general public. If force or threats of violence are used to deny or impede the right to fair housing, the Ministry of Justice may initiate criminal proceedings. The Fair Housing Act also provides procedures for dealing with individual complaints of discrimination. People who believe they have been victims of an illegal housing practice can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] or file their own lawsuit in federal or state court. The Department of Justice prosecutes on behalf of individuals based on HUD`s recommendations. In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed a national Fair Housing Act. Federal courts later upheld the lawsuit filed by Dorothy Gautreaux and other public housing tenants against discriminatory policies of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), eventually ordering CHA to issue rent subsidy coupons to thousands of African-American families so they could live outside the downtown core. Over the past three decades, African Americans and other minorities have settled in traditionally white communities in the Chicago area. Yet a late twentieth-century report on open housing in the Chicago area concluded that “race and ethnicity (not just social class) remain important factors in distancing minority families from some communities and toward others.” Twenty-one states and many cities have laid the groundwork for an attack on housing discrimination by enacting an open housing law prohibiting discrimination in the sale or rental of housing based on race, color, creed or national origin. A great effort was made in 1966 to pass such federal legislation, but it failed in the U.S.

Senate. This year, the focus was on the national and local levels. However, the Department of Defense has launched a nationwide campaign to eliminate discrimination against black soldiers seeking housing near military bases. The riots in Detroit, Newark and more than two other cities this summer have drawn more attention than ever to the survival and difficult problems of urban black ghettos. Blacks in cities are concentrated in segregated neighborhoods because, among other things, it was almost impossible for them to find housing elsewhere. Racial discrimination contributed to the creation of the black ghetto and its associated problems, and played a major role in preventing the dispersal of ghetto residents. Proponents of “open living” laws believe they have found a way to alleviate – but not eliminate – some of the feelings of hopelessness and imprisonment that are at the root of Black discontent. Racial restrictions have been applied to the development of countless residential communities and have generally been seen as essential to the preservation and stability of property values. Non-Caucasians are and have always been as free to restrict the use and occupation of their property to members of their own race as Caucasians. The fact that members of the Caucasian race have voluntarily exercised this right throughout the country, unlike non-Caucasian races, is a very satisfactory proof of the nation`s public order at this stage of contract law. There is no doubt that public policy changes and evolves over time, but these changes must have their roots in citizens and not in court decisions or the statements of publicists and politicians (92-93).