Fair housing law prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, national origin, disability status, and other protected characteristics. The 1968 Fair Housing Act also includes a powerful mandate that the federal government actively work to dismantle segregation and to create equal housing opportunities. This mandate is known as “affirmatively further fair housing.” HUD passes this duty on to all state and local governments that receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Unfortunately, fair housing protections and the duty to affirmatively further fair housing have come under attack in Washington. So Public Advocates is now working to strengthen California fair housing law, while we continue to press forward with local advocacy under existing law.
At Public Advocates, we believe that the displacement of individuals and families of color from their homes and neighborhoods is a barrier to fair housing that reflects structural racial inequality in our society. Lack of affordable housing, rising rents and evictions often displace families of color from neighborhoods of opportunity that offer long established networks and rich cultural institutions. New investment in low-income communities that could improve economic opportunity, schools, and neighborhood conditions can also result in gentrification that leads to displacement. We are working with community partners around the Bay Area and throughout the state to use fair housing law to advocate for “investment without displacement” and to advance protections for vulnerable tenants.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) intervened in a lawsuit against Westchester County, New York, in response to that County’s inadequate Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, or AI, resulting in a landmark affordable housing settlement, and setting in motion the process that led to HUD’s new rule on “affirmatively furthering fair housing,” adopted in 2015. At the same time, in July 2009, HUD initiated a comprehensive investigation into Marin County’s compliance with its fair housing obligations. HUD noted that many communities in Marin, just as in Westchester, had few residents of color, and that Marin had not updated its AI since 1994. The stark findings of HUD’s final investigative report led the county to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with HUD at the end of 2010. With our local partners, we developed and won strong commitments in the county’s Action Plan, and worked to see that it was implemented.
In 2011, we reached a settlement in a class action civil rights lawsuit brought by five African-American women. The suit accused the city of Antioch and its police department of engaging in a concerted campaign of intimidation, harassment and discrimination against African-American families that get federal assistance with their rent through the Section 8 program. In the settlement, the city agreed to cease the discriminatory policing of African-American Section 8 recipients. The lawsuit grew out of a 2007 investigative report by Public Advocates, in response to the concern of many tenants that a special unit of the Antioch Police Department was subjecting them to a pattern of harassment and intimidation.