Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

April 20, 2018

By Alexis Soucy

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, the New Hampshire Institute of Politics (NHIOP) hosted a conference on April 17 to discuss the application of these laws on college campuses, as well as civil rights in the context of 2018.

Representatives from many Saint Anselm College departments were in attendance, including those from Campus Ministry, Health Services, Residence Life and Education, and Student Activities and Leadership. Other attendees represented organizations including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Manchester School District, and New England College.

The first session of the conference featured a panel discussion on the history and policies of the Fair Housing Act, moderated by Victoria Horrock, New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA) Fair Housing Co-Director. On the panel were NHLA's Fair Housing Project Co-Director Maria Eveleth, Executive Director Lynne Parker, Staff Attorney Christine Wellington, and Attorney Brian Shaughnessy of Kazan & Shaughnessy, PLLC.

Eveleth described the Fair Housing Act’s policies on discrimination and harassment, noting that “many times people don’t even know they were discriminated against during a housing interaction.”

In order to reduce the number of discriminative incidents, the NHLA has launched a Fair Housing Testing Program. “We recruit and train testers to portray the characteristics of a profile, then send them out to a particular apartment complex, sometimes even at the direction of HUD,” Eveleth shared. “They come back with a report on their interaction with the landlord for us to review.”

Parker pointed out that one reason someone might be discriminated against in a housing interaction is for requesting an accommodation. According to Shaughnessy, the biggest accommodation landlords and residence directors need to be prepared for right now is emotional support animals (ESAs). He warned that “you’re in a difficult place if you don’t have a written policy on emotional support animals,” because this is considered a reasonable accommodation under the laws of the Fair Housing Act.

The second session of the conference featured presentations by David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, and Dottie Morris, associate vice president for Institutional Diversity and Equity at Keene State College. Harris and Morris discussed where Americans’ civil rights stood in 1968 in comparison to today.

In his work at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, Harris has noticed, “We think that people are pulled to better neighborhoods. But really, the pushes are greater than the pulls.” For that reason, he shared that there needs to be more practical ways of integrating suburban neighborhoods "that are known to change lives.”

Morris presented statistics on disparities in home ownership between races. “African American home ownership is now at an all-time low,” she said. “Fifty years of these acts in place definitely leads us to wonder what dog whistle language is in place for this to happen.”

Morris also warned of unintentional divides on college campuses. As schools work to meet demands for new, fancy dormitories, the cost of room and board increases. This puts students who can afford the new buildings together, and leaves students with less financial support for college in the older buildings. “By default, you end up having class difference,” she explained.

Morris emphasized that while the nation has come a long way in some aspects of civil rights in the last 50 years, it still has a long ways to go on others. One of her final examples was about generational wealth and debt: “If we go to the same school, for the same amount of time, for the same degree, but you come out with low debt and I come out with high debt, then that is not equal.”

Joseph Horton, vice president of Student Affairs at Saint Anselm College, observed, “Really high debt limits people in ways we don’t often think about.” It impacts people’s abilities to buy a home, go on to graduate school and more, particularly for those who have less generational wealth to assist them, he explained.

The presenters agreed that while there is always work to be done, the Fair Housing Act was a big step in the right direction for this country. “1968 was a year when a lot of people were asleep, but then they woke up,” said Morris.