The resettlement of Syrian refugees has been at the top of the headlines in recent weeks, and so this week’s FH5 will focus on how the Fair Housing Act protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of their national origin. When most people think of protections from housing discrimination based on a person’s national origin, the group that most likely comes to mind are Latin@ folks, which is understandable: Latin@s are the largest ethnic or race minority in the United States. However, Section 804 of the Fair Housing Act is unambiguous when it comes to protecting people from this type of discrimination, and that includes refugees. Whether it’s because of a prospective tenant’s perceived ethnicity or skin color or it’s because of their limited English proficiency, refugees are vulnerable to housing discrimination based on their national origin. Below are a few links to help both service providers and housing providers learn a little more about how this group of people is protected. Additionally, we’ve included a couple of other fair housing articles from the past week, including a pretty significant fair housing victory in Alabama.

  • As a starting plate, the Justice Department has a small explainer on national origin protection on their site. More information can be found at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s FAQ concerning immigration status and housing discrimination, and HUD lists on their website a few examples of what discrimination on the basis of someone’s national origin may look like (though it’s not an exhaustive list of examples by any means). Another great introduction/explanation of the national origin protection can be found at Project Sentinel‘s site. [DOJ, HUD (2), Project Sentinel]
  • Believe it or not, housing discrimination on the basis of national origin is an ongoing problem. Earlier this year, Long Island Housing Services filed a fair housing complaint against a neighborhood community in Yaphank, New York, for discrimination against prospective home buyers on the basis of their national origin. The by laws of the community, the German-American Settlement League, requires that people selling a home in the neighborhood give preference to people of German heritage or cultural affiliation, which “effectively prohibit anyone who is not white and of German descent from becoming a homeowner.” In 2014, the National Fair Housing Alliance conducted an investigation to determine if prospective tenants in Arkansas were being refused housing on the basis of their being Latin@. Based on the evidence of the investigation, the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission concurred that housing discrimination appeared apparent. [LIHS, NFHA]
  • Last month, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was pushing a bill in Congress that would “ban new refugees from 34 countries or territories from getting assistance from welfare programs,” which includes denying refugees access to federal housing assistance. CityLab followed up with a pretty comprehensive explanation of why Senator Paul’s proposal inexplicably violates federal housing law. To be sure, any attempt by Paul or other legislators to circumvent or change that component of the would undermine one of the fundamental purposes of the Fair Housing Act, which is to protect people from being denied housing opportunities purely based on any prejudiced opinions a housing provider may have about that person’s character due to their cultural or biological characteristics. [The Hill, Twitter, CityLab]
  • In non-national origin interests, the City Council of Mobile, AL, recently voted to include in its discrimination law protections for people on the basis of their marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, and age. “Most people didn’t know that if you were not married, a landlord didn’t have to rent to you. But now they’re a protected class here in the city of Mobile,” said Teresa Bettis, Executive Director for the Center for Fair Housing. Bettis added, “”People who were of age 65 or older, seniors, that is where we were seeing a lot of issues. But there was no recourse to protect them. So you can’t have our citizens locked out of housing.” Go Mobile! [WPMI NBC]
  • Finally, the Boston Globe published an essay examining the cognitive dissonance between liberal championing of METCO, a voluntary desegregation initiative, while simultaneously continuing to maintain unfair housing zones that prohibit true integration of residents. Some zones require homes to be built on one-acre lots, which most people would struggle to afford (if at all) while “nearly half of the cities and towns that participate in METCO — including Lexington, Wayland, and Weston — don’t allow multifamily housing, except by special permit.” The essay adds to the evidence that it’s not enough for cities to seek diversity – most already do that on their own – but to actually develop policies that open up opportunities for integration of otherwise segregated communities. [Boston Globe]
  • (Photo by Mstyslav Chernov. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Creative Commons.)

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