The nation’s fair housing laws protect groups who often suffer housing discrimination in a range of ways. They may be buyers or renters who are sometimes steered toward or away from particular neighborhoods, or existing residents seeking services from homeowners associations (HOAs) to help them live with their disabilities. But fair housing laws protect everyone in a community, making it important to actively promote fair housing in your neighborhood.
How fair housing protects property
It can happen faster than you can say “segregation.” Suddenly, your once-integrated, multi-ethnic neighborhood is becoming monochromatic. Should you expend your energy working to fight for integration of your community? Absolutely. When your neighborhood is diverse and welcoming, you ensure the widest possible pool of potential buyers for each house that goes up for sale. That helps keep property values high.
“It’s hard to believe that blatant housing discrimination still exists, but it does,” says Shanna Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, a non-profit fair housing advocacy group. All it takes is one housing-related professional making statements about a neighborhood being bad or one insurance company with different underwriting policies based on the racial makeup of the neighborhood to negatively impact property values, she says.
What you can do
As an individual or member of an HOA, there are several things you can do to protect your neighborhood:
Report suspected discrimination. You can do that through HUD, either online, by phone, or by mail. Or you can seek help from HUD’s local Fair Housing offices.
You can also contact the National Fair Housing Alliance, a national umbrella organization for fair housing advocacy groups nationwide. It can refer you to a local fair housing group that may be able to help.
Arrange an educational program in your community. Ask your HUD regional office or the National Fair Housing Alliance to send someone to your neighborhood for an informational meeting. Plan it as a potluck supper or neighborhood get-together, and include neighborhood association members and local real estate agents. Planning the event should take no more than 20 hours, including issuing the invitation to neighbors, asking around to find out which real estate agents are active in your neighborhood, and finding a speaker.
Make sure your community association’s bylaws and its covenants, conditions, and restrictions follow Fair Housing Act guidelines. When residents ask an HOA to make changes to accommodate a disability, for example, widening common-area doorways for a resident using a wheelchair, the association must follow federal fair housing laws. Fair Housing Accessibility First can help your association understand its responsibilities.
“Fair housing is the gateway to equal opportunity in education, jobs, and quality of life. It’s up to all of us to protect these rights in our neighborhoods,” said John Trasviña, U.S. assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.