April Is Fair Housing Month

27 Apr April Is Fair Housing Month

By MARSHA MITCHELL | Comms Director & JULIO ESPERIAS | Comms Manager

Housing Covenants 

On May 3, 1948, the United States Supreme Court ruled that real estate covenants, which barred minorities from living in “white-only” areas, could not be enforced by federal or state courts. Los Angeles lawyer Loren Miller had worked tirelessly with future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and other prominent attorneys to successfully argue Shelley v. Kraemer on behalf of black homeowners in L.A. who had been threatened with violence and eviction from their own homes. 

A Southern California Dream Deferred: Racial Covenants in Los Angeles 

White residents often resorted to bombing, firing into, and burning crosses on the lawns of Black family homes in areas south of Slauson. In addition, blacks traveling through South Gate and Huntington Park were confronted by White gangs. Seeking a more peaceful solution to the influx of black residents, Compton homeowners began to institute housing restrictions. For example, real estate brokers’ could have their licenses revoked for allowing people of color to buy or rent in the area. In addition, terms like “respectability of the home,” which was code for white, began to be used in the deeds of homes being sold. These conditions were not limited to blacks. They included Asians and Mexicans, and Native Americans.

Fair Housing Act Passed

Since 1968, when the Fair Housing Act was passed, April has been recognized as Fair Housing Month. This year is the 54th anniversary of this landmark civil rights law, which made discrimination in housing transactions unlawful. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, and familial status. Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968, the Act was intended to protect people from discrimination when renting, buying, or securing financing to purchase a home. 

To provide some context, two years earlier, the House passed the bill, but it died on the Senate floor. It wasn’t until 1968 when Senator Edward Brooke (R-Mass.), the only Black member of the Senate, co-sponsored the Fair Housing Act as an amendment to the Civil Rights Bill. Then, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Johnson wrote a letter to Congress to take action on the housing bill. Subsequently, on April 10, 1968–the day after Dr. King’s funeral–the Fair Housing Act was signed into law, prohibiting discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. But for most of the 20th century, racial segregation was codified into housing laws. 

The Inequities of Housing Today

The Fair Housing Act achieved tremendous victories for people of color toward more equitable and affordable housing, but today many of those same struggles remain deeply rooted in local policies. Decades after its passage, we can clearly see that the Fair Housing Act was not a catch-all solution to end and prevent housing inequities. Instead, in communities of color, the virus has spotlighted how systems contribute to the increased housing vulnerability of Black and Brown children and families. 

Black California couple’s appraisal lowballed by $500K, race was a factor

The inequities in homeownership are sobering, with only 44% of Black Americans owning their home in 2020 compared to 74% of white Americans (source Redfin.) According to the National Association of Realtors in California, just 34% of Black Californians own a home. In addition, blacks and Hispanics are twice as likely to be behind on their mortgage payments compared to their white counterparts. They are also at greater risk of losing their homes due to eviction. Across Los Angeles County, rents have gone up an average of 12.1% since the pandemic, and housing prices have made areas from Altadena to South LA to Inglewood million-dollar neighborhoods. 

Barriers to Homeownership for People of Color

Homeownership, in some ways, is the great equalizer to attaining generational wealth. Still, the wealth gap between white families and Black or Brown families increases as people of color are being priced out of homeownership. In LA, the median home price is $898,692. Exacerbating the affordability issue is housing density. A recent study by UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute found that single-family zoning is a direct impediment to affordable housing development. 78% of the land in Los Angeles is zoned for single-family homes and duplexes–making things difficult to build more density to yield affordable housing options, which continues the cycle of economic and racial disparities. 

Help on the Horizon

However, proposals and initiatives focused on providing short-term and sustainable solutions to tackle the housing crisis are underway at the State and local levels. Here is a summary of those efforts:

  • This bill signed by Governor Newsom went into effect, January 2022, which is intended to provide more housing supply by requiring local municipalities to ministerially process additional units on lots within those lower-density areas, of two (2) dwelling units (attached or detached) on a single-unit zoned parcel. SB 9 would give many single-family homeowners the ability to convert and/or divide their lots to build up to three additional homes on them, essentially turning a single-unit lot into a four-unit lot.

  • A critical component of SB 9 are the mechanisms designed to preserve rental and low-income housing, deter speculators, guarding against displacement and retaining local governments’ control over design standards while also preventing local officials from adopting rules that undermine the law.

$600-Million State Budget Allocation

  • The current California state legislature has introduced several bills that will help tackle the homeownership affordability crisis and spur home-buying opportunities by reducing barriers for renters to become homeowners. Legislators have proposed to Governor Gavin Newsom to allocate $600-million in the upcoming fiscal-budget for affordable housing homeownership programs. If passed, funds will be used for the construction of new homes and down-payment assistance.

Senate Bill 1457

  • If passed, SB 1457 would enact the California Family Home Construction and Homeownership Bond Act of 2022 which will be placed on the November 2022 ballot for voter approval. The legislation will include a $25-billion bond, allocating funds for first-time homeownership programs and to finance construction costs.

Fair housing is a core component in the fight for racial justice and equity. We must remain inspired to continue the fight for housing equality for all.

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