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What is the Fair Housing Act?

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In the 1960s, there were many pieces of significant legislation passed with the intention of decreasing discrimination and injustice within the United States. Among the most notable was the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, which eventually paved the way for additional provisions such as the Fair Housing Act of 1968.


The Fair Housing Act helped correct many of the injustices and eliminate the—often blatant—instances of discrimination that once widely existed within the mortgage and rental industries. Today, more than fifty years after it was originally passed, this Act has helped decrease housing discrimination and help ensure that people of all kinds can secure equal access to housing.

Though housing discrimination still exists today, the effects of the Fair Housing Act are still well-documented and widely visible. In this article, we will discuss the history of the Fair Housing Act and how this particular piece of legislation is still influential a half-century later.

The History of the Fair Housing Act

In 1866, following the end of the Civil War and the abolition of chattel slavery, the original Civil Rights Act was passed by an energized Congress in order to declare all citizens equal and, prohibit housing discrimination and other common forms of discrimination. However, there was virtually no way for the Federal Government to enforce this particular Act at the time, meaning that—though symbolically significant—it had very little effect on many groups’ ability to secure housing (particularly, African Americans).


During the first half of the twentieth century, housing discrimination played a major role in the United States, consequently increasing inequality and access to basic services. African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and other groups were largely denied the ability to rent or buy homes that were available to their white counterparts (and even some generally-considered white ethnicities, such as Irish, Italian, Slavic, Greek, Spanish, and Jewish, also faced discrimination). Practices such as redlining and restrictive covenants exacerbated these injustices even further.


In other words, access to housing—both homeownership and the right to rent—has been unequal for most of American history. In 1964, more than 100 years after the original Civil Rights Act of 1866, Congress passed a new Civil Rights Act which was eventually signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

 The primary purposes of this law were to “enforce the constitutional right to vote”, “provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations”, “extend the Commission on Civil Rights”, and “to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity.”


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was undoubtedly a landmark piece of legislation—however, housing discrimination still persisted across the United States. Four years later, just days after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., an additional Civil Rights Act was signed into law, including provisions that explicitly outlawed housing discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin.


There were many different “Titles” and components of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. One of the most notable is Title VIII, which is commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This Act explicitly banned several different types of housing discrimination based on race, religion or national origin, including the refusal to sell or rent, discriminatory terms, discriminatory advertising, discriminatory negligence, and more. Contrary to the initial Civil Rights Act that was passed a century earlier, this Act included federal enforcement mechanisms, including those enforced by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Fair Housing Act: Amendments and Enforcement

Since the original passage of the Fair Housing Act, several amendments and changes have been made to help extend its reach even further. Between 1974 and 1990, several other types of discrimination were banned, including discrimination based on sex, discrimination based on disability, and discrimination based on familial status (i.e. whether a person is married, expecting children, etc.). In 2017, shortly after the national legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, discrimination based on sexual orientation was also made illegal.

The Fair Housing Act Today

Overall, the primary purpose of this Act—and its amendments—has been to ensure that anyone who can afford to rent or buy a home should be able to do so, regardless of who they might be or any personal characteristics. Nearly all reputable mortgage lenders are aware of the provisions included in this Act and have adjusted their mortgage issuing process to ensure that discrimination no longer persists.


Though there is evidence that housing discrimination still exists in the United States in some cases, the Fair Housing Act helped reduce these instances of discrimination and helped create mechanisms for actual enforcement. If you believe that a mortgage provider, a landlord, or any other entity has discriminated against you due to a personal characteristic that is protected by law, both the Federal Housing Authority and Department of Housing and Urban Development have resources available to help.

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