Fair housing ensures strong communities
At Heights Community Congress (HCC), we believe an open and fair housing market results in inclusive communities and neighborhoods. Since the passage of the Federal Fair Housing Act in 1968, fair housing practices in renting and selling homes has been the law, but we know it is not always practice.
The law must be constantly monitored, upheld and protected. April is Fair Housing Month, and a perfect opportunity for the city of Cleveland Heights and its residents to recommit to upholding fair housing in our community.
A key element of Cleveland Heights’ commitment to fair housing is testing, which organizations such as HCC do for the city. Testing consists of sending two people, matched on factors such as age and gender, to inquire [separately] about renting or buying a home.
The testers have similar background stories but vary on a significant characteristic, such as race. If, for example, an African American tester is told there are no units available, but a white tester is shown a unit, that would suggest racial discrimination. HCC performs these tests to determine whether landlords and rental agents are following the Federal Fair Housing Act. We also see it as an opportunity for education—to teach landlords and agents about illegal and suspect behavior.
In addition to testing and providing educational programming, HCC urges county, state and federal policymakers to enact legislation to protect fair housing. In a letter HCC sent to presumptive U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge, we outlined several key actions we believe HUD should take, including:
- Acting swiftly, in conjunction with other federal departments, to address the looming eviction and foreclosure crisis by extending the eviction moratorium, providing rental and mortgage assistance, and offering legal representation in eviction cases to vulnerable residents.
- Expanding the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program to ensure all eligible residents have access to safe, healthy and affordable housing.
- Returning the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule to its prior iteration, focusing on encouraging and holding communities accountable to make plans to promote fair housing, reduce racial segregation, and provide affordable housing.
- Campaigning for an expansion of the Fair Housing Act’s protected classes to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and source of income.
Such policies will ensure cities like Cleveland Heights remain strong, diverse communities.
While we believe fair housing is something that must be protected all year, we encourage Cleveland Heights to pay particular attention to ensuring our community is accessible to everyone during Fair Housing Month.
If you would like to get involved, or learn more about fair housing, we encourage you to contact us about joining HCC’s Fair Housing Committee. To learn more about the systemic racism that contributes to inequities in housing access, HCC encourages you to attend our free Groundwater racial equity training, to be held virtually on Sunday, April 18, 1–4 p.m. To register, go to http://heightscongress.org/heights-conversations.html.
Eric Dillenbeck is executive director of Heights Community Congress and a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA.