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By Melissa Lewis

The failure of fair housing





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Outer Joins
The failure of fair housing
By Melissa Lewis • Issue #2 • View online
Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. What was it intended to do, and what has it done?

Location! Location! Location!
Code Switch is consistently excellent, and as soon as I saw that it had an episode on the Fair Housing Act, I hoped Nikole Hannah-Jones would be involved. I attended her session on investigating inequality at a journalism conference last year, and among the lessons that stood out was the importance of familiarizing oneself with the actual text of legislation and case law.
Most of us know the law in broad strokes – when I hear Plessy v. Ferguson I reflexively think “separate but equal” – but that’s a far cry from real understanding, especially where implementation of law is concerned.
Here’s what she says in the Code Switch episode:
A much more little-known provision of the Fair Housing Act though actually says that in addition to barring discrimination, governments are supposed to work to affirmatively undo the segregation that they had worked to create, which is actually a very radical provision, [and] is also why it’s unsurprising that that has totally not been enforced.
Hannah-Jones also spoke to Code Switch a few years ago on this topic, too, and talked about how beat reporting at The Oregonian got her interested.
A Battle For Fair Housing Still Raging, But Mostly Forgotten : Code Switch : NPR
I was working for a newspaper in Oregon when a press release landed in my email about some tests the city of Portland had done to gauge the level of housing discrimination that black and Latino residents faced. When I asked city officials what they intended to do with the landlords that the tests had found violated the law, city officials informed me they did not plan to do a thing. The tests, they said, were informational only. Say what? That raised my antennae. So I started digging and quickly learned that Portland was only following the federal government’s lead. Fair housing enforcement was a joke.
The absence of enforcement, quantified
This year, Oregonian reporter Bethany Barnes investigated the impact of rent increases on student stability in Portland, finding that schools with greater proportions of economically vulnerable students also had greater proportions of students withdrawing early and/or arriving late, sometimes multiple times a year.
Reading, Writing, Evicted | The Oregonian
Aaron Glantz and Emmanuel Martinez at Reveal analyzed over 30 million records to identify patterns in mortgage lending disparities by race, and found those patterns in over 60 metro areas in the U.S. It’s important to note that with stories like these, we may simply be missing data, rather than affirming that a problem doesn’t exist.
For people of color, banks are shutting the door to homeownership  |  Reveal
Among the more stunning findings: in Philadelphia, “African Americans were 2.7 times as likely as whites to be denied a conventional mortgage.”
And it’s part of a positive feedback loop: much of Americans’ financial stability comes from their housing equity, which is made all the more disturbing in light of the Atlantic story “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans” (another long read, I’m afraid).
Perhaps this isn’t true anymore, but in 2013, nearly half of all Americans surveyed said that they’d have to borrow money or sell something to pay for a $400 emergency. Is that true of you?
More reading
Segregation Now | ProPublica
How Oregon's Second Largest City Vanished in a Day | Smithsonian
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Melissa Lewis

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