Bipartisan Commission Launched to Investigate Housing Discrimination in America

Media 07.15,08

WASHINGTON, DC – A national commission, co-chaired by two former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretaries – Jack Kemp and Henry Cisneros – today kicked off its cross-country investigation into the alarming state of U.S. housing in the wake of the subprime housing debacle.

“Rampant discrimination played a significant role in the unraveling of the American dream for many families and we will document that discrimination as a first step toward reinvigorating a national housing policy,” said Kemp.

The bipartisan commission – hosted by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, National Fair Housing Alliance – held its first regional hearing in Chicago today and will hold additional hearings in Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, and Houston.

The hearings are expected to draw hundreds of housing advocates and residents who will testify to the nature and extent of illegal housing discrimination, its origins, its connection with government policy and practice, and its effect on communities across the nation. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, also known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

“I believe it is a crucial component of this commission to consider our government’s role in the continuing state of housing inequality and the reforms necessary to ensure its vigorous enforcement of the law,” said the Honorable Henry Cisneros. “I am honored to be part of this historic commission to examine the state of fair housing in our nation.”

The findings and recommendations to strengthen housing laws will be part of a comprehensive report to be released in December.

The day-long hearings will cover many subjects but will highlight regional challenges, for example:

  • Chicago, July 15:  The Impacts of Urban Revitalization
  • Houston, July 31: The Re-Segregation on the Gulf Coast in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
  • Los Angeles, September 9: The Foreclosure Crisis
  • Boston, September 22: The Effects of Housing Discrimination on Education and Children  
  • Atlanta, October 17: Federal Accountability and Enforcement of  Fair Housing Laws

In addition to co-chairs Henry Cisneros and Jack Kemp, the National Commission will include Pat Combs, former President of the National Association of Realtors; Okianer Christian Dark, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Howard University College of Law; I. King Jordan, President-Emeritus of Gallaudet University; Myron Orfield, Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Law; and Gordon Quan, former Mayor Pro Tem and Chair of the Housing Committee for the City of Houston.

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“We are holding hearings in five cities, but the housing challenges faced in these places represent the challenges faced by communities and families across the country. Housing goes far deeper than four walls — it can determine where we go to school, where we work, and too often, our access opportunity.
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights President Wade Henderson

“The fortieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Act is an especially appropriate time to examine the state of fair housing enforcement and the progress, or lack thereof, in reducing residential segregation and to develop viable solutions for all Americans.  Moreover, in the midst of the most serious foreclosure crisis since the Great Depression which is falling most heavily on minority homeowners, such a Commission is critical.”
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Executive Director Barbara Arnwine

“The National Commission comes at a critical time.  Residential segregation persists throughout the country despite forty years with a fair housing law.  Segregated housing is a root cause of inequality in education and employment.  A comprehensive examination of the roles of the housing industry and all levels of government in perpetuating the problem should be welcomed by all.”
NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. President and Director-Counsel John Payton

“Forty years after passage of the Fair Housing Act, our country is still confronted annually with millions of incidents of housing, lending and insurance discrimination which foster segregation in neighborhoods across America,” said Shanna Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance.  “HUD and DOJ are charged with enforcing the Fair Housing Act, but my experience over 33 years in the field is that, overall, HUD and DOJ are inconsistent and ineffective in its duty.  We look forward to this Commission’s examination of the origins, current extent and effects of housing discrimination and how our nation’s fair housing policy to eliminate discrimination and promote neighborhood diversity can be realized.”
National Fair Housing Alliance President Shanna Smith