Even today, Americans are losing opportunity because of housing discrimination

This is a guest post by Connellee Armentrout. Connellee is originally from Roanoke, Virginia and is a second year law student at the University of Richmond.

Some people think that discrimination does not exist anymore and that blatant, destructive racism happens rarely to never. Unfortunately, racism is still very much alive and is still keeping opportunity away from some Americans. An example of this is found in a housing discrimination complaint from Milwaukee.

Racism is more than just hurtful words and feelings; it is robbing someone of the opportunity to prosper because of his race. Nowhere is this more possible than by discriminatory housing practices because access to a home is access to a community. Segregation, enforced by discrimination, holds minorities in failing communities and keeps those same communities from succeeding by crippling efforts to  integrate.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC) has filed a complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleging that Waukesha County has engaged in illegal housing discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, and that the County has violated HUD’s mandate to affirmatively further fair housing. The complaint alleges that the county’s deliberate actions have contributed to the extreme racial segregation in the county, which the 2000 census found to be 95% white.

In order to receive federal funds, Waukesha County must certify to HUD that it analyzes impediments to fair housing and takes action to overcome identified impediments, but MMFHC alleges that since 2006 more than $12,500,000 in federal funds has been deployed to 35 individual jurisdictions without adequate consideration for its impact on fair housing choice by people of color. This county has been encouraging racial and economic segregation by continuing to fund jurisdictions that have actively prevented the development of affordable housing and that the County discourages integration of mostly-white communities.

While the Milwaukee metropolitan area is racially diverse, Waukesha’s population is starkly homogeneous. As William R. Tisdale, MMFHC’s President and CEO, noted:

“Communities do not become and remain all-white by accident. They get that way and stay that way because local governments and private actors erect barriers to racial and ethnic integration.”

For example, one such jurisdiction, New Bern, threatened to recall its mayor for his support of a workforce housing project until he rescinded his support, and a number of jurisdictions did not have a single African-American according to the recent census.

Housing discrimination is a deeper issue than just answering the question of where a person will live, because access to a home is access to a community that provides transportation, education, and jobs.  A good analogy is the Brown v. Board of Education line of cases, which desegregated public schools. In that case, the Supreme Court concluded that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Likewise, in addition to denying an individual the freedom to live where he wants, restrictions to fair housing deny him the opportunities provided by the community. It is well known that public services in some communities are better than others, and deliberately denying access to those services because of a person’s race is akin to maintaining segregated schools.

The Fair Housing Act, which makes unfair housing practices illegal, recognizes this understanding of the discriminatory effect of unfair housing. Generally, the Act applies to an individual who is discriminated against by a landlord. However, in cases that exhibit patterns or practices of discrimination, HUD may investigate the allegations through an internal administrative review, which is what MMFHC has filed for, and HUD or the US Department of Justice may bring suit in federal court.

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