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Fair housing for all – worthy goal with many challenges

During April, we celebrate the Federal Fair Housing Act, which was signed into law on April 11, 1968, exactly one week following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
 
 Beverly L. Watts

During April, we celebrate the Federal Fair Housing Act, which was signed into law on April 11, 1968, exactly one week following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As we celebrated the life and accomplishments of Dr. King earlier this month, we were reminded of the importance of Fair Housing Month, why it was necessary, how far we have come, and how far we still have to go as we recommit to fair and decent housing for all.

President Lyndon B. Johnson utilized this national tragedy to urge for the bill’s speedy Congressional approval and viewed the Act as a fitting memorial to the man’s life work. The Act prohibits discriminations in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and, as amended, familial status and disability. The act promoted equal housing choice for all and was assigned to the newly formed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  

It was ten years later, in1978, that Tennessee legislators passed the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA), which prohibits discrimination on the same basis as the Federal Fair Housing Act with the addition of creed. The THRA granted enforcement authority to the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC) in housing as well as employment and public accommodations. This effort was led by Jocelyn Dan Wurzburg, a current commissioner from Memphis who previously served as a commissioner during that time period.

THRC is an active partner with HUD in providing access for opportunity and promoting diverse and inclusive communities. This is not 1968 or 1978 and much has been accomplished to promote fair housing; however, issues still remain around the country that highlight the fact that we still have work to do to realize fair housing for all.

Most housing discrimination does not make the headlines. At THRC, we receive complaints alleging discrimination based on eviction, denial of rental, refusal to make modifications and accommodations, discriminatory financing and discriminatory advertising. Over the last four years, we have received more than 450 allegations of discrimination in housing, and obtained settlements in many of those cases. These resolutions include the installation of modifications to buildings to aid those with disabilities, reinstatement of housing non-monetary relief in the form of rent and rental subsidy credits, and attorney fees.

Housing is a basic need for everyone and the fight to end housing discrimination continues. At THRC, we not only receive and investigate allegations of discrimination, we educate the public about their rights and responsibilities. Since the start of the year, we have continued an outreach program to allow citizens to voice their concerns about discrimination in their community at Listening Sessions. One session was recently held in Memphis, and two more are planned for Johnson City and Nashville.

These listening sessions allow the public to voice concerns and they confirm that there is still work to be done and we need to continue our actions to eliminate discrimination.

On April 3, 1968 at Mason Temple in Memphis, Dr. King said, “Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

This was his dream and this is the mission of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, which is an independent state agency charged with eliminating discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing.  

For more information or to file a complaint, call 8000251-3589 or visit www.tn.gov/ humanrights and click on “Contact Us” by email.

(Beverly L. Watts is executive director, Tennessee Human Rights Commission.)

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