What federal programs protect minorities from housing discrimination?
UPDATED: February 24, 2015
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The Federal Fair Housing Act is the major U.S. law preventing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability in the sale or rental of housing. These seven groups are considered protected classes under the act. The Federal Fair Housing Act applies to anyone who sells or rents real estate or housing, and prohibits practices like racial steering, blockbusting, redlining, and filtering information about a home’s availability.
Several other important housing protections are in place in addition to the Federal Fair Housing Act. Some of these are listed below.
The Federal Fair Housing Act, Sexual Discrimination, and Disability
For the purposes of the act, sexual discrimination includes sexual harassment, meaning unsolicited comments, gestures, or physical contact creating an offensive environment and sexual favors sought in return for housing. With regard to familial status, families are defined as at least one child under the age of eighteen living with at least one parent or appointed guardian. Family status also refers to pregnant women and those undergoing an adoption process. The act prevents housing providers from imposing any special requirements or conditions on tenants with custody of children.
Persons with a disability include individuals with mental or physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. Impairments can include conditions such as blindness, hearing impairment, mobility impairment, HIV infection, mental retardation, alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic fatigue, learning disability, head injury, and mental illness. A major life activity may include seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, speaking, or working.
Enforcement of the Federal Fair Housing Act
The Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are jointly responsible for enforcing the Federal Fair Housing Act. The act prohibits conduct such as refusing to make reasonable accommodations that may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. People who engage in this conduct may be held liable unless they fall within an exception to the act’s coverage. The act may exempt owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act
The Department of Justice often brings cases under both the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, public assistance program status, or because an applicant has exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. For example, the Justice Department has sued lenders under both the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act when they have imposed more stringent underwriting standards on home loans or made loans on less favorable terms for Hispanic borrowers.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. In addition to enforcing other federal statutes that prohibit discrimination in housing, HUD has an obligation to ensure that families and individuals are not subjected to discrimination by any HUD-funded grantee or sponsor.
The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974
Section 109 of this act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or religion in programs and activities receiving financial assistance from HUD's Community Development and Block Grant Program. In addition to the responsibility for enforcing other federal statutes prohibiting discrimination in housing, HUD has an obligation to protect individuals from discrimination by programs that receive federal funds.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs, services, and activities provided or made available by public entities. HUD enforces Title II when it relates to state and local public housing, housing assistance and housing referrals.
The Age Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.