Apr 08 2021

Chairman Beyer on the Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act: Enactment was Beginning of the End of an American Horror Story

In August, Chairman Beyer Spoke with Leading Housing Discrimination Expert Richard Rothstein as Part of an Ongoing Effort to Meet with Experts about Issues Affecting the Economy

Today, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Chairman of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), released the following statement ahead of the 53rd anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law on April 11, 1968.

The Fair Housing Act—Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968—prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, (and as amended) disability and family status.

Passage of the legislation was not easy—for a year, Congress failed to get the majority it needed. However, after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, President Johnson convinced Congress to pass the legislation in honor of the slain civil rights leader. The Fair Housing Act is considered the last great legislative achievement of the civil rights era.

“One of the key components of household wealth in the United States is homeownership. So it is no surprise decades of housing discrimination by federal, state and local governments, as well as the private sector, would lead to a homeownership rate for Black Americans that lags far behind the rate for white Americans, 44% versus 75%. This massive and growing gap in homeownership is a key factor driving the racial wealth gap, whereby Black families have just one-eighth the amount of wealth as white families.

“Stories about Black Americans who tried to buy homes during the early-to-mid 20th century, many of whom were veterans who had risked life and limb for their country, are heartbreaking. Because of redlining, racist restrictive covenants, racial terror and other forms of housing discrimination, the American Dream for Black Americans was always a dream deferred. This injustice not only affected their lives and livelihoods, it affected the lives and livelihoods of their children.

“Some of the worst stories are those about Black Americans who ‘bought’ homes but had to ‘buy’ them from contract sellers—predatory home mortgage lenders who were able to target those who were cut out of the legitimate home mortgage market. These lenders used underhanded tricks to put Black buyers in a position of never owning the home they had bought. For example, one missed payment could cost the buyer their down payment, monthly payments and the property itself.

“While the enactment of the Fair Housing Act was the beginning of the end of this American horror story, housing discrimination and its lasting effects are not yet a thing of the past. As Richard Rothstein, one of the leading experts on housing discrimination told me during a conversation last year, it is the government’s responsibility to remedy residential segregation and other effects of housing discrimination since it created them. I could not agree more. Congress must continue to right this historic wrong for current and future generations.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Congressman Beyer has been meeting weekly with economists and other experts about issues that affect the economy. In August, he met with Rothstein, the author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, as part of the JEC’s focus on wealth inequality. Some of the remedies Rothstein advocated for during the meeting include:

  • The federal government buying homes and reselling them to Black Americans at a price that would have been affordable to their grandparents had their grandparents been able to buy. 
  • The federal government building quality housing not just for families with low incomes, but also for working-class families, and placing this housing in high-opportunity areas. There is a middle area between market-rate housing and low-income housing that needs to be filled. 
  • Prohibiting zoning ordinances at the local level that require single-family homes, specifically those on large lots. As Rothstein explained in an interview last year, “[This] effectively perpetuates the segregation because it prevents not only single-family homes on smaller lot[s], but townhouses, duplexes, low-level apartments and so forth. So the zoning ordinances don't say that they're designed to keep African Americans out, but [they do because] they perpetuate an unconstitutionally created situation.”