ROCK ISLAND — Area lawmakers, officials and Realtors celebrated Fair Housing Month on Monday with a breakfast at the Martin Luther King Center to mark the 1968 legislation that sought to end housing discrimination.
They also noted efforts to ensure equality of opportunity in housing continue.
The federal Fair Housing Act enacted April 11, 1968, prohibits discrimination on the sale, rent and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin and gender.
April is observed as National Fair Housing Month. The observance also recognizes the inspiration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. His April 4, 1968, assassination quickly ended congressional debate on the legislation, and it was put on the desk of President Lyndon Johnson a week later.
“We know that challenges remain,” said Sharon Carlson, CEO of the Quad City Area Realtor Association, which sponsored the breakfast.
“According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that agency and its fair housing partners receive over 8,000 complaints alleging discrimination annually — every type of discrimination from individuals and families concerning their right to choose where they live.”
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, said passage of the act and the housing segregation it sought to address are within her lifetime and those of many in the crowd of about 100 at the breakfast.
“This was a time when we still had segregation,” she said. “Many of our schools were not yet integrated, and we still had a problem with families being able to live where they wanted to live. So this was a landmark piece of legislation.”
She said that, under President Barack Obama’s administration, “we took it a step further” with Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. The rule requires communities receiving HUD funds to examine housing patterns and create plans to address discrimination and bias.
“Think about what year this is, and the fact that we still need to do that,” Rep. Bustos said.
She criticized the new HUD secretary, Ben Carson, who last year said the act amounted to a “mandated social-engineering scheme” and was an example of “failed socialism.”
“We’ve got a lot at stake, and I have no desire to go backward,” Rep. Bustos said. “And I don’t think people in this room do either. I am here as your partner.”
Ms. Carlson read from the National Association of Realtors’ Fair Housing Declaration, which states Realtors will “provide equal professional services without regard to race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation.” She noted the number of discrimination allegations that still arise.
“We encourage Realtor members and business partners to learn more about fair housing resources available, as we recommit ourselves to working together to create communities of opportunity,” she said.
State Reps. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island, and Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, also expressed their support for the principles of fair housing and addressed questions about the local real estate market.
“There’s nothing better than being a practicing real estate agent, where you’re actually giving someone that opportunity to have that first home or have a dream home after several years,” Rep. Halpin said. “I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that that opportunity, and the joy you see on all of those buyers’ faces, is extended to everyone.”