Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Fair Housing Legacy
“There is nothing greater in all the world than freedom. It’s worth going to jail for. It’s worth losing a job for. It’s worth dying for.” — Martin Luther King, Jr
One of the most influential and celebrated leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to secure equality for all victims of discrimination, economic and political injustice, and poverty through peaceful protest. He was the catalyst behind such watershed events as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Selma to Montgomery March which led to the passage of such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (History 2009). His name is commemorated on countless street signs and public buildings and his birthday is a National Holiday. But fewer people recognize his pivotal role in the Fair Housing Movement and passage of the Fair Housing Act, the law that made it illegal to discriminate in the buying, selling or renting of housing based on a person’s race, color, ethnicity, religion or nation of origin.
Systemic racism has deep historical roots in this country and is ingrained in all aspects of our society from healthcare to education to politics. And perhaps, nowhere is it more evident than in housing. In the early twentieth century Black Americans and people of color were systematically denied access to affordable, quality housing and better neighborhoods through a discriminatory practice known as redlining. Blacks and people of color were steered to lower income areas with poor housing stock and fewer amenities. They were barred from moderate- and middle-class white neighborhoods, white schools, and new suburban developments. And Redlining robbed these black neighborhoods of wealth for generations. Dr. King recognized that institutional discrimination, exclusion and segregation in housing were core components of racial injustice with long-lasting implications.
In July 1965, the Chicago Freedom Movement was born. Co-led by King, black residents and activists mobilized to challenge systemic segregation in Chicago and its suburbs and to campaign for “open housing” where people of color could purchase homes in any area they could afford providing access to improved housing, better schools, and greater employment opportunities. King and his family moved to a Chicago slum to bring awareness to the living conditions of tens of thousands of black Chicagoans. And in partnership with the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), he and the community organized mass non-violent demonstrations that included rallies, protest marches, boycotts, tenant’s unions, and sit-ins (Momudu 2016).
After thirteen months of campaigns—many met with violent opposition—Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Dr. King and various housing boards reached an agreement (Uprety 2019). On August 1966 it was announced that the Chicago Housing Authority would build public housing in predominantly white areas and the Mortgage Bankers Association agreed to end its discriminatory lending practices (Momudu 2016). But the most significant and far-reaching outcome was the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson one week after Dr. King was assassinated. A follow up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VIII (known as the Fair Housing Act) expanded the prohibition of discrimination to the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, handicap, and familial status.
These victories, while significant, have not fully dismantled the systemic racism and economic injustice that continues to plague our country—particularly in housing. The racial homeownership gap remains damning with the black homeownership rate having fallen to lows not seen since the civil rights era of the 1960s. Despite the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977, the Black homeownership rate is 30% less than that of whites and 22% less than the national average (Blain 2021). People of color still experience the greatest barriers to accessing and maintaining homeownership with the homeownership rates at only 44% for Blacks and 49% for Hispanics compared to 74% for whites (Unites States Department of Commerce 2021).
It’s no better for Black families and individuals selling a home. Implicit biases, explicit biases, and structural constructs like public policy, institutional practices, and cultural norms and representations are often mutually reinforcing and perpetuate racial inequity in appraisals. For example, the wealth gap between Blacks and other racial groups can be directly attributed to the value assigned to housing in majority-minority areas or to homes owned by Black individuals and families. Homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 on average when compared to similar homes in white neighborhoods of similar quality, amounting to $156 billion in cumulative losses. (Perry et al. 2021). Structural racism and implicit racial biases absolutely have an impact on the valuation assigned by appraisers to specific homes and communities.
Homeownership remains at the core of building wealth for most Americans. Yet the racial wealth disparity between blacks and whites is staggering. White households hold 86.8 percent of overall wealth in the country according to the 2019 SCF, though they account for only 68.1 percent of the households in the survey. By comparison, Black and Hispanic households hold only 2.9 and 2.8 percent of wealth while accounting for 15.6 percent and 10.9 percent of the US population. Clearly wealth is disproportionately skewed towards white households (Aladangady and Forde 2021). As of 2021, Black wealth is less than 13% of white wealth (Luhby 2021). Housing and homeownership are key factors in these statistics.
While government redlining ‘officially’ ended with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the impact lingers on. Racial inequities that exist in housing today can be directly attributed to racist policies like deed restrictions and zoning laws that remain intact in many cities. Leaders and legislators, too, are reinforcing racial divides through policies and rules and how they are applied. More than fifty years after its passage, the Trump administration repealed two key rules that protect civil rights in housing thereby weaking efforts to uphold racial equity in housing. Such actions are not only critical for the housing and lending industries, but have direct impacts on education, transportation, employment and (Jan 2021) . Moreover, the disparities are expected to widen, given that the COVID-19 pandemic and related policies have had disproportionate impact on households of color.
Dr. King had a vision, a dream. He wrote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” By drawing nation-wide attention to segregation and discrimination, he demanded political and economic justice and human rights for all Americans. Whether it was a seat on a bus, minimum wage for all workers, or access to a voting booth, King sought to create a country built on the ideals of freedom, dignity, equality and justice for all.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
And there is hope. Since 1968, activists have continued to work to end racial discrimination in the United States and racial equity is at the forefront of the Biden Administration. Executive orders were signed directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to reverse the actions taken by the Trump administration to undermine fair housing principles restoring the disparate impact rule and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requirement. And housing—specifically boosting black homeownership rates—is central to the administration’s plans to address racial inequity (Jan 2021). Amid skyrocketing housing prices, rent, and demand, the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better plan aims at alleviating the nation’s current housing crisis by generating more affordable housing options for renters and homeowners alike through measures that include prioritizing affordable single family homeownership and incentivizing local governments to revise exclusionary zoning laws.
At GROWTH we work on behalf of all Americans to keep Dr. King’s dream alive by creating pathways to homeownership. We promote the idea that everyone should be able to buy a home without fear of discrimination. We believe that no matter where you start in life, the color of your skin, your religion, or nation of origin, all people deserve the opportunity to own a home and to enjoy the financial benefits ownership provides. We empower homebuyers to build stable lives and vibrant neighborhoods and lift communities by creating mixed-income housing and greater diversity. Safe, affordable, quality housing shouldn’t be a privilege for the few. Every family deserves the opportunity to own a home, to build wealth and to enjoy the American Dream.
“Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children,”— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Aladangady, Aditya, and Akila Forde (2021). “Wealth Inequality and the Racial Wealth Gap,” FEDS Note Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, October 22, 2021. https://doi.org/10.17016/2380-7172.2861.
Blain, Keisha N. “Home Hunting While Black: How Racism Sabotages the American Dream.” MSNBC, NBCUniversal News Group, 4 Sept. 2021, www.msnbc.com/opinion/home-hunting-while-black-how-racism-sabotages-american-dream-n1278488.
History.com Editors. “Martin Luther King Jr..” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/martin-luther-king-jr
Jan, Tracy. “Trump Gutted Obama-Era Housing Discrimination Rules. Biden’s Bringing Them Back.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 Apr. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/04/13/hud-biden-fair-housing-rules/
Luhby, Tami. “US Black-White Inequality in 4 Charts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 June 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/01/politics/black-white-racial-wealth-gap/index.html.
Momodu, Samuel. “Chicago Freedom Movement (1965–1967).” BlackPast, BlackPast, 27 Aug. 2021, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/chicago-freedom-movement-1965-1967/.
Perry, Andre M., et al. “The Devaluation of Assets in Black Neighborhoods.” Brookings, Brookings, 17 Feb. 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/research/devaluation-of-assets-in-black-neighborhoods/
United States Department of Commerce, 2021, QUARTERLY RESIDENTIAL VACANCIES AND HOMEOWNERSHIP, THIRD QUARTER 2021, https://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/files/currenthvspress.pdf. Accessed 10 Jan. 2022.
Uprety, Aastha. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Equal Rights Center, Equal Rights Center, 18 Jan. 2019, https://equalrightscenter.org/martin-luther-king-fair-housing/mlk-2/.