April is Fair Housing Month. H.O.M.E. is proud to uphold fair housing laws in its housing and to ensure our resident population is diverse in every way.
We also want to make sure that the older adults we serve through our community programs, together with our volunteers, partners, and donors, are aware of their fair housing rights.
It is 51 years ago this month, days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, that Congress finally made it a universal right to access housing regardless of race, national origin, religion, or color. The Federal government later added sex, disability, and familial status (presence of children) to the Fair Housing Act. Many states, counties, and cities have additional protections from discrimination.
In Chicago, those include age, gender status, sexual orientation, military discharge status, marital status, parental status, housing status (e.g., homelessness), and lawful source of income (e.g., Social Security, housing voucher, child support).
Why do we have these laws? Fair housing laws ensure that we are all treated the same by those selling or renting out homes. Discrimination doesn’t just affect the individual but our entire society.
For example, the roots of today’s racially segregated communities lie in decades of systemic exclusion and steering of African Americans in every aspect of the housing market, and are reinforced by local governments and bigoted neighbors. Because discriminatory effects linger, the Fair Housing Act also calls for an affirmative obligation on the part of governments to desegregate and open housing markets.
What does housing discrimination look like for older adults?*
Older adults often face housing discrimination based on disability. Questions and comments like these about your independence and abilities may be discriminatory:
- “Are you capable of living independently?”
- “I cannot allow you to rent that unit; I am afraid of future liability if you get hurt.”
- “You can only live here if there is someone to take care of you.”
- “Why do you receive Social Security benefits?”
- “I’ll need to review your medical records.”
Many people are not aware that fair housing laws cover assisted living facilities, continuing care facilities, retirement communities, and nursing homes. Statements intended to steer older adults toward particular types of housing may be discriminatory:
- “Residents with walkers live on the first floor.”
- “Our active seniors live in these units.”
- “Residents in wheelchairs use the second floor dining room.”
- “We do not allow people to live in these units with 24-hour personal care attendants.”
- “Perfect opportunity for active individuals.”
Different treatment regarding rent, security deposits or insurance payments may be discriminatory:
- “You have to pay extra for your live-in health aid.”
- “You can only use the service elevator with your wheelchair.”
- “People who use wheelchairs cause damage; you’ll have to leave a double security deposit.”
Fair housing laws also protect older adults when it comes to financing their homes. Banks, lenders, and insurance companies cannot set different mortgage rates, different terms, or refuse to negotiate with you because of your age or disability.
What can I do if I have been discriminated against?
If you believe you are the victim of housing discrimination, or would simply like to gain a better understanding of your fair housing rights and responsibilities, contact Access Living at (312) 640-2106 (voice) or (312) 640-2102 (tty), or a Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance member near you. You can also file a fair housing complaint directly with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Knowing your fair housing rights will bring you closer to living where you choose.