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Fair Housing & Latinos: New Accomplishments and New Challenges

By John Arenas, Housing Policy Associate

As National Fair Housing Month comes to an end, the Latino Policy Forum will continue to honor the work being done to promote discrimination-free access to housing in the Latino community, as well as reflect on the current challenges to progress fair housing.

It has been my privilege as the Forum’s Housing Policy Associate to provide housing rights education to our Housing Acuerdo partners. The Forum’s Training and Education Create Housing Opportunities (TECHO) curriculum was developed in 2013 with the input of many of our Acuerdo partners to create a resource that is culturally and linguistically relevant to Latinos. The final product was a series of eight modules that cover a variety of subjects including: Fair Housing, the Rental Agreement, and Evictions. The lessons are designed to not just be information, but tools to train the trainers so that our community partners can go on to teach their communities directly. By training our community in how to recognize discrimination and report it, we hope to increase Latinos’ ability to self-advocate and increase access to safe, quality, and affordable housing. 

This year, I had the opportunity to partner with Housing Acuerdo members, such as property managers at LUCHA, housing counselors at Erie Neighborhood House, youth community leaders at Logan Square Neighborhood Association, leaders at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and case managers at the Center for Changing Lives. Although workshops covered a range of housing rights, all of them highlighted the fair housing protections we have as Chicagoans, Illinoisans, and as Americans to access housing without discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, disability, or any other protected class. I also had the opportunity to train University of Illinois at Chicago students as Housing Promotores, who helped me reach community members at the Mexican Consulate and refer them to the proper organization based on their housing obstacle.

In my role as a workshop facilitator, I listened to the experiences of community members, and over and over again I would hear stories of discrimination, rights violated, or someone simply saying they did not know how many protections they have. I’m reminded of the story of one mother who told me after I explained familial status protection that she had experienced discrimination for having children her whole adult life. The reality of housing discrimination in Chicago is evidenced through data as well. The Chicago Commission on Human Relations and Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, in a recent fair housing testing report, found discrimination in all neighborhoods tested based on both race and source of income. It is my hope that by providing education to the community, we will share with one another what we have learned and fight discrimination one day at a time.

Unfortunately, the challenges to fair housing cannot simply be solved through rights education; in order to end segregation and provide opportunity for all, it requires strategic planning, economic investment and just public policy. One way the Forum hopes to address housing barriers for Latinos is through the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act (ITPA), which offers protection for tenants who are being discriminated against, harassed, or retaliated against based on their actual or perceived immigration status. Thankfully, the ITPA bill passed the Illinois Senate, and will soon be heard before the IL House Judiciary Committee, and hopefully pass and proceed to the House floor, where it will still need lots of advocacy from our partners.

Also, in 2015, the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama implemented an administrative rule, known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. The rule is based on a provision of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which mandates deeper community engagement, a more deliberate regional framework, and a more accountable system for planning requirements for jurisdictions like Chicago. A key part of this rule was the Assessment of Fair Housing in which jurisdictional areas receiving very large federal grants would be encouraged to work together to evaluate the current state of fair housing and create a plan for how they will proactively reduce segregation and inequality.

In January 2018, the Trump Administration effectively rolled back this rule through a series of procedural measures. Fortunately, many affordable housing advocates from around the country have decided to continue their work of advocating for fair housing regardless of any new, proposed rule changes. Thanks in part, to the efforts of several of our community partners, the Chicago Metropolitan area will still undergo an Assessment of Fair Housing as planned, despite not being required to do so. Our partners at the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance will facilitate community member input, as municipal governing bodies create a thoughtful, comprehensive regional evaluation that assesses the need to continue furthering fair housing

While barriers to fair housing remain for the Latinos and other communities of color, we can still celebrate this month the tremendous work of fair housing advocates over the last fifty years to ensure the proper enforcement of our nation’s laws. Here at the Forum we hope to make our own place in that legacy and encourage all of you to do the same.

If you would like to find out how, or have any questions about discrimination or your rights as a renter, please do not hesitate to reach out at jarenas@latinopolicyforum.org or 312-376-1766 ext. 235.

Happy Fair Housing Month!