Laws can seem serious, distant, and belonging only to the realm of judges and lawyers. However, long before I even thought of becoming a lawyer, I ran into the need for the Fair Housing Act. Since the FHA is under attack, with HUD Secretary Ben Carson ordering rules be re-written to favor those who would discriminate, now is a good time to look at the real value of the FHA. I bought a house at age 25. Here’s how knowing about the FHA would have changed things:
1. I wouldn’t have believed there were “no more houses” for sale in Gary, Indiana–the predominantly black community where the house I initially asked the realtor to show me was located.
2. I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be driven around distant suburbs that didn’t meet my expressed needs to tire me out and ready me to buy what the realtor wanted to sell.
3. I would have seen through (and reported) the realtor when she said things like, “My heart breaks for Gary, but it isn’t safe there.” (“Safety” is a recurring proxy for race.)
4. I would have insisted on seeing houses in Gary–and in other urban areas with the amenities (like public transit and proximity to Chicago) I wanted.
5. I would have recognized code words: “safe” and “good schools” (for my non-existent children).
6. I would have sued the neighbor who waddled over to demand we not sell our home to “blacks.”
7. I would have recognized–and avoided–white-flight enclaves.
8. I would have sued each and every mortgage broker who, when I tried to move from the unsuitable house to which we foolishly allowed ourselves to be steered, refused to give me a residential mortgage in Gary because they didn’t believe I was going to live there. (This was about 10 brokers at different mortgage companies.)
9. Ditto on Round II of realtors who wouldn’t show homes in Gary.
10. When we finally got to Gary, I would have sued the insurance brokers who refused to sell us replacement-value insurance and the realtors who immediately began sending block-busting ads.
The FHA has potential to help people buy houses where they want to buy them–free of stereotypes. However, the law cannot be weakened, requires able and ready attorneys to help enforce it, and needs wider public awareness of the possibility of suing violators.