The Long Road to Fair Housing

By MNR News posted 18 days ago

Since its passage in 1968, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has protected millions from discrimination in obtaining housing. And while the law’s impact was swift and dramatic, it was the result of more than a century of struggle to overcome the institutionalized racism that followed the end of the American Civil War.

1866—Civil Rights Act Extends Right of Citizenship to All Born in the USA
In the wake of the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act guarantees the rights of citizenship to all people born in the United States, regardless of race, color, or former status as a slave. Protections include the right to buy and sell property and make contracts. Congress overrode a veto by President Andrew Johnson to pass the legislation.

1868—14th Amendment Guarantees Citizenship for Former Slaves
Building on the Civil Rights Act, the 14th Amendment promises citizenship to formerly enslaved people. Unfortunately, the law fails to protect African Americans from continuing segregation and racism.

1880s—Racial Covenants Emerge as Tools of Discrimination

The nation’s first racial covenants are deployed in California to prevent Chinese people from working and settling in the state. Other states, including Minnesota in 1908, quickly adopt deed restrictions to deny housing based on race, national origin, and religion. 

1896—U.S. Supreme Court Rules “Separate but Equal” is Constitutional
In the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Court finds that segregation based on race does not violate any provisions of the Constitution. This allows repressive Jim Crow laws to continue subjugating, oppressing, and denying equal rights to African Americans. 

1917—Race-Based Zoning is Outlawed
Although the U.S. Supreme Court overturns zoning restrictions based on race, local governments across the United States rely on deed restrictions to continue discriminatory practices. 

1934—Redlining Draws New Maps of Economic Exclusion
The Federal Housing Administration begins redlining, a practice that blocks access to mortgages, insurance, loans, and other financial services for people in communities with lower economic status. Predominately Black urban neighborhoods are impacted most deeply. Even those with good credit scores cannot secure loans for purchasing properties. 

1945—Minneapolis Leads the Way Against Discrimination
Hubert Humphrey, the new mayor of Minneapolis works to tackle discrimination against Blacks, Jews, and Japanese Americans by passing some of the first open housing and anti-discrimination ordinances. 

1948—U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Racial Covenants
The landmark Supreme Court case of Shelly vs. Kraemer outlaws racially restrictive housing covenants. The same year, newly elected U.S. Senator Humphrey makes a passionate plea for including a Civil Rights platform at the Democratic National Convention. 

1953—Minnesota Legislature Outlaws Lingering Deed Restrictions
Despite the 1948 Supreme Court decision, racial covenants continue to be incorporated in new deeds until the Minnesota Legislature bans the practice. 

1961—Minnesota Bans Race-Based Housing Discrimination
Recognizing that discrimination is still pervasive, Minnesota lawmakers pass legislation that prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin. 

1964—Civil Rights Act Ends Jim Crow
The new law forbids discrimination in hiring, promoting, or firing based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Toppling Jim Crow laws, the Act desegregates public schools, and prohibits discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs. 

1965—Voting Rights Act Provides Equal Access
Although the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, extended voting rights to all freed African Americans and their descendants, it is soon subverted by a web of restrictive laws in Southern states. The Voting Rights Act outlaws literacy tests, poll taxes, and bureaucratic restrictions, as well as harassment, intimidation, and physical violence used to prevent Black people from voting. 

1968—Fair Housing Act

On April 10, just six days after the assassination of Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, the Fair Housing Act is signed into law. Co-authored by Senator Humphrey, the Act protects against discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.” 

After Fair Housing—The Struggle Continues
A 2014 study by Housing Link, a non-profit organization working to improve housing conditions, found ongoing challenges for members of Fair Housing Act-protected classes who want to buy or rent a home in the Twin Cities seven-county metro area. Obstacles faced by this population include: 

  • Higher rates of loan denial for homebuyers of color 

  • Predatory lending practices toward immigrants, people of color, and disabled people 

  • Greater rates of denial for rental applications from people of color and those with disabilities 

  • Regulations by local governments that limit construction of affordable housing and accessible housing for those with disabilities 

2023Minnesota Takes a Step Toward Closing the Racial Homeownership Gap with First Generation Downpayment Assistance Fund 

Only 25% of residential properties in Minnesota are owned by Black households. That stands in stark contrast to the nearly 77% of white households that own homes. Nationally, Minnesota has the fifth largest racial homeownership gap in the United States. Passed by the Minnesota Legislature in May 2023, the First-Generation Homebuyers Down Payment Assistance Fund is a $100 million-program designed to help first-generation homebuyers—a group that primarily composes people of color—who don’t have enough savings for a downpayment. 

To read this article in the March/April digital issue of The Minnesota Realtor® magazine, click here.