This year marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the landmark legislation signed to end housing discrimination and residential segregation in America. The Fair Housing Act protects the most fundamental of all civil rights. It protects everyone who purchases or rents a home from discrimination because of one’s race, color, national origin, and religion. The Regan Administration later expanded its protection to include one’s sex, disability, or familial status.
During the Great Depression, the federal government sponsored programs to subsidize low-cost loans, opening home ownership for the first time to millions of average Americans. At the same time, government underwriters introduced a national appraisal system, tying property value and loan eligibility to race. All-white communities received high ratings and benefited from low-cost, government-backed loans, while nonwhite communities and low-income families received the lowest ratings. Of the 120 billion dollars’ worth of new housing subsidized by the government between the 1930s and early 1960s, less than 2 percent went to nonwhite families. The federal government effectively blocked nonwhite families from homeownership while white families finally achieved the American Dream. It is in this climate and environment that spurred the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s.
Sadly, 2018 is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King remains one of the most iconic and inspirational figures in American history. His leadership fostered equality and his legacy continues to uplift millions across the globe. Dr. King understood where you live determines your access to schools, transportation, quality health care, fresh food, clean air, and even how long you are likely to live. Access to a safe community, with the opportunity to obtain a sustainable mortgage of one’s choice, is an essential element of the American Dream. In 1966, Dr. King launched a campaign for fair housing advocating against segregation. To illustrate the substandard conditions people of color face in housing opportunities, he and his family moved into a rundown tenement in a Chicago neighborhood. Dr. King’s ability to show a broader American audience that what happened to some of its citizens, affected all of its citizens, that being unfair to some was being unfair to all. Dr. King, joined by President Johnson, called upon Congress to enact what would later become the Fair Housing Act.
But despite the effort and sacrifice, the Fair Housing Act was not a useful piece of legislation until being amended 20 years later. Initially, the Fair Housing Act lacked any real enforcement mechanism or ability to hold those who chose to discriminate accountable for their actions. For all its practical and administrative shortcomings, however, the Fair Housing Act, as initially passed, remains one of the most aspirational documents in our country’s history. Over the past five decades, Congress made enormous strides improving the enforcement provisions of the Fair Housing Act. The Act is still improving and evolving today.
So, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, we should reflect on and appreciate how it got to where it is today. In many places, the Fair Housing Act replaced segregation with integration and poverty with prosperity. It lifted millions of Americans out of the depths of intergenerational struggle. It advanced the fundamental promise of the American dream that all Americans are entitled to full and equal access to good housing, good communities, good jobs, and good schools. At the same time, there is still work to be done to fulfill the promise of the Fair Housing Act and to break down the barriers that continue to discriminate against too many people in our country.
Randall “Randy” McMichael is the Managing Partner and Co-Founder of McMichael Taylor Gray, LLC (MTG). McMichael represents national, regional, and local builders, brokerages, and lending institutions across a multi-state platform predominantly covering the southeastern United States. He also focuses on staffing, resource allocation, and strategic growth. Additionally, he works with and supports numerous charities including Promise 686 and HomeAid Atlanta. McMichael is an active member of Perimeter Presbyterian Church, State Bar of Georgia, Real Property Law Section of the Georgia Bar, Mortgage Bankers Association of Georgia, and Homebuilders Association of Georgia.