Culture Scan

At the intersection of real estate, media, and pop culture.

4 Things You Didn’t Know About the Fair Housing Act

Usually I try to point Book Scan readers to the written word, but occasionally I find a piece of audio worth recommending. Yesterday, I was listening to This American Life, an NPR radio show produced by my local station, WBEZ. The show produces one hour of radio a week, usually with several segments organized around a central theme. If you have never listened before, the Nov. 22 episode is a great place to start if you’re in real estate. The show, titled “House Rules,” addresses the idea of “destiny by address” through an examination of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

NAR 2011 Fair Housing Poster Map

One might argue that real estate professionals know more than the average bear about the Fair Housing Act, since it’s so integral to the housing industry in this country. But here are a few items that you might not know about fair housing in America and the legislation itself.

1. The federal government pretty much invented redlining. Many associate this practice with private lenders, but they weren’t the ones to popularize the now-illegal practice. In the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration began backing loans to encourage home ownership… but only among the “right” groups. The government actually drew red lines on maps around certain neighborhoods and refused to back home loans in those areas. And it wasn’t just predominantly minority neighborhoods either; according to ProPublica reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, the government sought to disincentivize living in integrated neighborhoods as well.

“Your property values were going to go down because the government had decided that integrated neighborhoods were automatically less valuable,” Jones says in the “House Rules” episode. “Between 1934 and 1964, 98 percent of the home loans that were insured by the federal government go to white Americans.” She added that banks and other government programs, such as the GI Bill, simply followed the federal government’s lead.

2. Walter Mondale’s sponsorship of the Fair Housing Act was something of a fluke. According to This American Life producer Nancy Updike, President Lyndon Johnson “flattered” the young senator from Minnesota into taking on the project because everyone else had turned him down. Mondale later told Jones that it was a toxic topic among his colleagues. While they broadly supported moves such as the Voting Rights Act, northern-state lawmakers felt like housing reform made them look like hypocrites, because segregation was still a huge problem in cities far north of the Mason-Dixon.

3. One book that likely never would have made it to print today had a big impact. President Johnson convened the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission, to look at the causes of the race riots that rocked many American cities between 1965 and 1968. The public interest was so great that the commission’s findings were published and sold around 2 million copies, a remarkable feat for a government report. At the same time that some members of Congress were arguing that passing a housing bill would simply encourage rioters, the commission seemed to argue that housing segregation itself was at least partially responsible for the violence.

“Our nation is moving toward two societies: one black and one white, separate and unequal,” the Kerner report read. “Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans.”

There’s a lot more to This American Life’s “House Rules” episode, if you want to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the implementation of the act and the early years of HUD under former Michigan Gov. George Romney.

Also, the National Association of REALTORS® has a wealth of resources on fair housing, from publications to field guides to tool kits and more. In fact, I have one bonus fact you might not know about the Fair Housing Act that I gleaned from’s treasure trove of information:

4. The Fair Housing Act had a legislative precursor… signed into law less than one year after Abraham Lincoln’s death. Yes, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibited all racial discrimination in the sale or rental of property. But because it did not contain any federal penalties for violators, more specific legislation was necessary during the civil rights era to actually accomplish many of the goals set out by this initial act.

Find much more at NAR’s online home for the Fair Housing Program. It’s not too early to start gathering ideas and supplies to celebrate Fair Housing Month this coming April!


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