Discrimination in housing is still happening more than fifty years after The Fair Housing Act was passed.
“It’s been a long road for these fair housing laws to be passed and there is still more to do. Discrimination is still happening despite these laws,” said Jamie Gatewood, the education and outreach assistant director for the Fair Housing Council of Oregon.
Gatewood hosted a presentation for Coos County residents in Coquille on Thursday, March 16 to explain the history of fair housing, who it applies to, and what to do if someone is experiencing discrimination. She also gave resources to landlords and property owners so they could better understand the laws.
Fair housing is the right of all people to be free from illegal discrimination in the rental, sale or financing of housing.
The Fair Housing Council of Oregon receives about 2,000 contacts per year regarding possible discrimination from housing providers. She said about 70 percent of these situations are easily resolved.
If more action is needed, the Fair Housing Council can help file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the Oregon Civil Rights Division of Labor and Industries or other housing laws enforcer.
The Fair Housing Council of Oregon is a nonprofit whose mission is to end housing discrimination and ensure equal access to housing for all Oregonians
Gatewood’s area covers Coos, Curry, Douglas, Josephine and Lake Counties.
“We’ve been doing this for more than 30 years. Our main office is in Portland, but in the past few years we have been able to expand throughout the state of Oregon to focus on issues that are happening in rural communities, which are really different from what’s happening in bigger cities,” Gatewood said.
“So when we are talking about fair housing laws we are talking about access to fair housing. That’s what these laws are about. They are civil rights laws. They make it illegal for housing providers to discriminate against people who belong to a ‘protected class’ identities,” she said.
The federally ‘protected classes’ are race, color, national origin, religion, sex familial status and disability. In Oregon, these classes also include marital status, source of income, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“They also make it illegal for jurisdictions to segregate communities,” Gatewood explained. “Historically, there was a system that was set up saying where folks could live. Now, many many years later, when we look there are patterns that are still there.”
Gatewood said it’s important to know the differences between fair housing law and landlord tenant law.
“Both sets of laws are equally important. The landlord tenant law has protections for landlords as well, while fair housing law is protecting tenants,” she said.
Some “red flags” to watch for when it comes to fair housing are straight out refusal to rent to someone based on their race, gender, sex, disability, etc. or giving out false or inconsistent information, or applying different policies, rules and procedures to different people.
Discriminatory advertising is also a red flag, such as “No Section 8 housing.” or “Healthy Seniors Wanted.”
“If you are a senior with a disability that affects your mobility, that could really make you feel like you are not welcome there. That’s why it is considered discriminatory advertising,” Gatewood said.
Housing providers must be consistent with they way they process applications.
“It is legal for a landlord to treat some applicants differently,” the fair housing representative said.
Landlords can turn people away if they have poor credit or are unable to pay rent, but landlords should use consistent criteria and procedures for screening applicants.
“It’s best practice to review applications in chronological order. It’s discriminatory to just pick through applications and pick the person that they want. The first person who meets the rental requirements is the one you should go with,” Gatewood said.
Any one with questions regarding fair housing laws can contact the Fair Housing Council of Oregon for more information. Their resources include a housing discrimination button as well as a housing provider hot line. Both can be accessed at www.FHCO.org.
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