Achieving Equity Through Fair Housing

Confronting America’s Past and Envisioning an Equitable Future

By Emily Martin, Special Guest Contributor

When we look around us at who lives where and who has access to resources and opportunities (or more importantly, who doesn’t), the disparities can be shocking. How did we get here? How do we begin to move toward a truly equitable society — one where everyone has access to transportation, jobs, educational opportunities, and the housing of their choice? To understand how our communities came to be so segregated — so inequitable — we have to first take a look back at our country’s legacy of discrimination.


One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding racism and discrimination in our country is the idea that it is perpetuated solely by individual racists, carrying out explicit acts of racism with malicious intent. It is important for us to look at this issue from a systems perspective and acknowledge that, from the beginning, the federal government created and perpetuated racially discriminatory policies that continue to impact our communities today.

In 1933, the federal government sought to address the country’s housing shortage by instituting housing programs that were designed to provide housing to white, middle-class families — while simultaneously keeping people of color out of the suburbs, pushing them instead into urban housing projects. Author Richard Rothstein calls these housing programs, which began under the New Deal, a “state-sponsored system of segregation.” Not long after, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) established the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), which instituted the harmful policy known as redlining. In short, this policy enacted an explicitly racist grading scale of neighborhood home values, resulting in communities of color being ranked as “hazardous”, which barred them from accessing home loans, while white communities were considered “desirable”, allowing them to easily get mortgages and move into the housing of their choice.


By the mid-1960’s, racial discrimination and segregation were increasingly posing real threats to the wellbeing of Black communities across the country. In Chicago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Chicago Freedom Movement, also known as the Open Housing Movement. This movement, which sought to challenge systematic racial segregation and discrimination in Chicago, was the most ambitious civil rights campaign in the northern United States. Unfortunately, Dr. King would not see housing discrimination outlawed before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

As a nod to the tireless work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968, more commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, on April 11, 1968 — exactly one week after Dr. King’s assassination. The Fair Housing Act “prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.” Since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, state and local governments have added other fair housing protections into their ordinances, in addition to federal protections. Local fair housing advocates continue to push municipalities to adopt more inclusive and equitable housing policies as well.


Although the practice of redlining was outlawed over 50 years ago, the effects of discriminatory housing policies are still seen throughout the U.S. Today, approximately 3 in 4 neighborhoods that the HOLC deemed “hazardous” in the 1930s remain low to moderate income, and more than 60 percent are predominantly nonwhite.Cuyahoga County remains one of the most racially segregated regions in the United States. When comparing segregation patterns of the 1940 redlining map of Cuyahoga County (Figure 1) to The Fair Housing Center’s 2016 map of racial segregation in Cuyahoga County (Figure 2), the effects of these racist housing policies are glaring. We see that the same communities that were redlined in 1940 remain racially segregated over 80 years later.

Figure 1: Home Owner’s Loan Corporation Redlining Map for Cuyahoga County, 1940

Figure 2: 2016 Census Tract Nonwhite and/or Hispanic Population, Cuyahoga County

Since 1983, the Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research (FHC) has been working to protect and expand fair housing rights, eliminate housing discrimination, and promote integrated communities in the Greater Cleveland area. Through research, education & outreach initiatives, and direct advocacy with victims of housing discrimination, FHC advocates for equitable housing policies and strives to move toward creating truly equitable communities — where all people have equal access to the housing of their choice.


If communities are still so segregated more than 80 years after redlining maps were drawn, what can be done to ensure that in another 80 years, these maps will not still look the same as they do today? Youth may just be a key part in breaking this cycle of discrimination and oppression.

Young people have played a pivotal role in social change movements throughout history. The Fair Housing Center firmly believes that 1) everyone deserves a seat at the table and a chance to be heard, and 2) it’s never too early to start learning about the importance of fair housing and civil rights. That’s why partner organizations like Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice (EYEJ) are so important to The Fair Housing Center and its work. EYEJ works to “empower and amplify the voices of teens and pre-teens by bridging them with diverse individuals to engage in interactive discussions centered around social justice”. Through programs like Youth Online Discussing Justice (YODJ), young people have the opportunity to share their experiences and engage in meaningful discussions with community members about issues that directly affect them. Any efforts for social change must center and amplify the experiences of those who are directly impacted, and the unique perspectives of young people are essential to the fair housing movement. When we welcome youth into the movement, we are welcoming our future activists, leaders, and change makers.

There are surely many Northeast Ohioans with a passion for standing up against social injustices and working to create a more inclusive, fair world — but it can be hard to know where to begin. One way to start getting involved in fair housing advocacy is by checking out The Fair Housing Center’s newly-created Fair Housing Reading List, which features 45 titles for all ages and tackles important topics relating to fair housing, inequality, and discrimination. There’s no better place to start entering the world of social justice advocacy than by gaining the foundational knowledge that will lead you on the path to becoming an advocate for social justice. It is imperative to confront America’s history of discrimination while including youth voices in our advocacy efforts in order to create a truly equitable future.



Empowering Youth Exploring Justice

EYEJ drives social justice reform by empowering young people to advocate for change.