Volume 2 Number 4FAIR HOUSING LEGISLATION ADVANCES
In testimony before House and Senate Subcommittees this Spring, many witnesses testified to the need for strengthening the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968), which prohibits discrimination in the rental, sale, marketing, and financing of the Nation's housing. The Fair Housing Amendments Act (S558/HR1158) introduced in the 100th Congress by Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Representatives Don Edwards (D-CA) and Hamilton Fish, Jr. (R-NY), would strengthen the enforcement provisions of the Fair Housing Act and expand the protected classes to include disabled persons and families with children. The bill was introduced in response to widespread evidence that families and disabled persons who encounter discrimination in the housing market do not have an effective remedy. While the Department of Housing and Urban Development has primary responsibility for the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act HUD "is significantly hampered in its power to requir e compliance with Title VIII because if it finds discrimination, it can only use informal persuasion to bring about compliance" (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, The Federal Civil Rights Enforcement Effort 1974 Volume II To Provide ... For Fair Housing (December 1974)).
Enforcement through the courts by private individuals is a long and costly process. The Department of Justice is limited to "pattern and practice" cases, or cases raising an issue of general public importance and thus does not bring suit on behalf of individual families. During the period from November 1, 1983 through January 31, 1987, DOJ filed a total of 53 lawsuits, fewer than 18 per year. The amendments would strengthen HUD's enforcement mechanism by providing a simple and inexpensive administrative remedy: HUD would represent a complainant with a valid case before an Administrative Law Judge who would be able to award equitable and declaratory relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages to a prevailing complainant.
The Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution held six days of hearings followed by six days of hearings in the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. Witnesses in both the House and Senate provided evidence of continuing and pervasive housing discrimination. Mr. Arthur L. Blackwell, Jr. provided gripping testimony about his experience with housing discrimination:
On January 30, 1983, I tried to purchase a house in an all-white block of a predominantly white area in Richmond, Virginia... The seller, who was friendly and appeared eager to sell her home rejected 3 contracts, and on February 2, wrote a letter indicating she was selling her home to a white couple at a lower price than the price I had offered [$7,000 lower than Mr. Blackwell's highest offer] ... When I asked my agent if race was an issue, she said that some racial comments had been made.
... I filed a complaint against the realtor, seller and agent... [and] was referred to Housing Opportunities Made Equal (the local private fair housing organization in the Richmond Metropolitan area).
The information received from H.O.M.E. was discouraging. I learned that there are many cases of discrimination in housing, that they are not easily resolved and most of the complainants do not ultimately move into the house that they originally wanted. I remember leaving the office feeling terribly distressed and angry knowing that a group of whites had so easily prevented me from purchasing a home. This was not 1920 or 1950; but 1983, a time when there were laws to prevent this type of injustice from occurring.
What I have experienced is not an isolated incident. It occurs frequently, often without the victims knowing that they have been mistreated. You, the members of this committee cannot change the way people think or treat minority classes; but you can take steps to insure that it is not easy. to unlawfully discriminate against them. I urge you to prevent this type of behavior from recurring, to support the public and private organizations which fight discriminatory practices in housing, and to severely punish the offenders.
The MONITOR summarizes below the hearing testimony on discrimination against families with children and the disabled, and on the Administrative Law Judge enforcement provisions.