Fifty years ago today — seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of housing based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status or national origin.
In so many ways, the work that local housing agencies take on helps to actualize the promise of the Fair Housing Act. Affordable housing provides access to fair housing. Low-income housing built or preserved in “high opportunity” or emerging neighborhoods provides access to communities that the private market does not often provide. The voucher program offers enormous choice to families across the country. Affordable homeownership programs provide access to the American Dream and to wealth-building opportunities that impact families for generations to come.
Housing agencies still struggle with the legacy of segregation upon which public housing was built, and they have an obligation to affirmatively further fair housing…so there is more work to do. When properly resourced, housing professionals are more equipped to take on these challenges, particularly in the face of opposition. But they are not equipped to take on challenges outside of their control. Zoning rules, transportation challenges, federal underfunding, and unyielding elected officials are, indeed, formidable opponents.
As we reflect today on the work yet to be done, I acknowledge the work that is being done; housing agencies are keeping the promise of Fair Housing alive, in words and in deeds. But they need our continued support to ensure that, as President Johnson said 50 years ago, “…the bell of freedom rings out a little louder.”