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It’s been 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. It’s designed to protect people from discrimination as they try to get a home loan, buy a house, or rent.
Peniel Joseph with the School of Public Affairs at UT Austin says its legacy has been a mixed bag. He talked with David Brown, host of Texas Standard.
Why the fair housing act was signed when it was: The Fair Housing Act is passed the week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., so in a way it’s the president and Congress’ efforts to use legislation and public policy to try to stem the tide of anger that’s really passed before the summer, and this is the era of long, hot summers that had really begun in 1963 with Birmingham, Alabama, so in a way this is Congress’ efforts to use public policy to quell some of the racial crises that we’re having in the country.
How the Fair Housing Act has played out in Texas: It’s played out differently throughout the South than it has especially in urban cities: New York, Oakland, Los Angeles. Some cities were much more robust in wanting to desegregate, at least certain areas. When we think about the South, it’s been very, very slow to have residential integration.
If anything, the strategy in the South after both the Fair Housing Act and the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, was white flight that was really brokered by both private and public entities. Private — real estate interests, banks —and public, with the way in which zoning laws and federal, state and local municipalities divided up school districts. So it’s been really difficult in the South to promote residential integration.
On the verdict on the Fair Housing Act 50 years later: It’s a mixed bag. What’s important is that it’s federal legislation that’s supposed to guarantee equal opportunity for all when it comes to housing. Fifty years later, we don’t necessarily have the political and legal institutions that want to ensure that for all Americans.
Listen to the full Texas Standard interview.
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.