Conference challenges advocates to wage war against discrimination

Published: Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Consumer Action sponsored the Fair Housing Conference 2018

Reflecting our commitment to housing education and advocacy, Consumer Action was a sponsor of the April 25th Fair Housing Conference 2018: Past Accomplishments, Future Challenges, an event commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, more commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act. Consumer Action’s Audrey Perrott participated in the festivities, which were hosted by the non-profit Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, a longtime partner of Consumer Action that has combated housing discrimination in Marin County since 1982. Perrott served on the Fair Housing Conference advisory committee.

The conference attracted a variety of stakeholders, including advocates, politicians, housing providers, lenders, reporters and consumers, and acted as both a celebration and a call to action. Topics covered at the conference included tenant rights and protections, gentrification and displacement, and strengthening community power through alliance building.

“While we have made great advancements in housing opportunity for people of color, there is still a lot of work to do,” Perrott said. “We cannot rest on the laurels of past achievements. We are still fighting the war for fair housing—a fact that was acknowledged throughout this amazing event.”

The conference featured keynote presentations from leaders across the country, including James Perry, CEO of North Carolina’s Winston-Salem Urban League, and Professor George Lipsitz of the Department of Black Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Perry gave a compelling speech on the history of housing discrimination and actions that advocates should take to change the current climate, using California as a model. “California is the frontline in the war to integrate American cities,” said Perry, before offering a primer on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to eliminate housing discrimination. Perry noted that King used crisis situations to compel positive change and gave an example of the current housing crises in both California and Louisiana (post-Katrina) to show how this strategy could be employed today.

According to Perry, California has been in a housing crisis for a very long time. In order to make real change in California (and across the country), Perry encouraged advocates to be strategic in understanding and helping to sway day-to-day policymaking as well as media coverage of housing issues.

Finally, Perry discussed the Trump Administration’s work to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s rule on affirmatively furthering fair housing by requiring communities to confront racial inequities.

Perry added that the only state in the nation that is actively working to further fair housing is California, particularly through a state Assembly bill (AB 72) introduced by Miguel Santiago (D–Los Angeles) that would allow the state attorney general to enforce state housing laws. Consumer Action and other advocates are working to help pass the legislation.

Professor Lipsitz then gave a thought-provoking presentation about the dangers of failing to enforce fair housing. He talked about the problems of the original Fair Housing Act, explaining how it had few enforcement powers when first written, only becoming stronger over time with the help of advocates like those in attendance.

Lipsitz went on to point out that we live in a society that views a few individuals as exceptional and the masses as disposable, leading to some communities monopolizing amenities and resources while many other communities are treated as nuisances and hazards. The insular resource-rich communities often erroneously believe that they will be better off and “safer” because the problems that develop in the “nuisance” zones will not come to their front doors. However, the concept of safe interiors and dangerous exteriors (e.g., gated communities, a wall between the U.S.-Mexican border) is a fantasy, he says. Instead, these walls produce the very problems they purport to eliminate, often creating what he calls “sacrifice zones” (low-income neighborhoods filled with pollution, poverty and other socioeconomic problems).

Discriminatory housing practices create a racial wealth gap that produces a racial health gap, noted the professor. Residents in sacrifice zones suffer from heart disease, shorter lifespans and crime, which ultimately undermines not just the zones themselves but society at large. Fair housing works to change these conditions and improve society for everyone.

Finally, Lipsitz likened poor housing conditions to the long fetch of a wave. Just as there are a lot of factors that influence a wave before it hits the shore (such as geography, meteorology and wind speed), instances of unfair housing have a long fetch of history behind them, relying on “slavery unwilling to die and new forms of predatory lending and other forms of discrimination.”

The conference also included a musical performance by John Wallace of the Surviving the Odds Project and remarks by June Williams of Senator Kamala Harris’s office. The conference closed with participants energized and ready to go back to the trenches to wage the fair housing fight. To listen to an excerpt from the conference or to download conference slides, visit the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California website.

 

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