About the WINS Initiative
What is Fair Housing?
The Fair Housing Act is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was enacted shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The Fair Housing Act’s intent was to end both overt discrimination in the housing market and address housing and land use policies that lead to segregation and unequal access to opportunity for minority groups.
One of the practices that the act aimed to abolish was redlining, which was causing residents of neighborhoods with high or increasing concentrations of minority households to be denied access to home loans and home insurance. Redlining began in the 1930s, when the Federal Housing Agency and the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation created “residential security maps” to designate minority neighborhoods as risky areas for investment. These maps (which designated minority neighborhoods with red shading) were influential in limiting investment within minority areas and reducing access to loans and insurance for minority households in those neighborhoods. The City of Somerville can be found on this residential security map dated February 1, 1938.
Who is Protected by Fair Housing Law?
Since its inception, the Fair Housing Act has prohibited discrimination based on national origin, color, race, religion, disability, sex and familial status (e.g., families with children) when renting, buying or securing financing for a home. In Massachusetts, fair housing laws go further, by prohibiting discrimination in housing-related activities and transactions because of one’s age (for those over 40), receipt of government assistance, military status, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, ancestry and genetic information. These are called protected classes under the FHA.
Ongoing Efforts to Maintain Fair Housing
While overt housing discrimination is less common than it was before the Fair Housing Act was enacted, segregation and unequal access to opportunity still exist for protected class groups in the United States. Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, HUD set a new framework for local governments to take “significant actions that are designed and can be reasonably expected to achieve a material positive change that affirmatively furthers fair housing by, for example, increasing fair housing choice or decreasing disparities in access to opportunity.” These “significant actions” are meant to foster welcoming and inclusive communities where members in protected classes have equal opportunities to housing throughout the City.
Somerville’s Assessment of Fair Housing
As part of our efforts to analyze Somerville’s fair housing landscape, the City conducted an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH). The assessment involved using HUD-provided data such as a mapping tool (https://egis.hud.gov/affht/), local data and local knowledge, and a community engagement process to help analyze and assess fair housing issues in Somerville. The City of Somerville also surveyed residents to get a better understanding of their experiences with housing in the City. One hundred and twenty-eight residents participated, and we have put together a presentation with our findings here. The City of Somerville submitted their Assessment of Fair Housing to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in October 2017. You can view the document here.