‘Still work to do’ in light of 50th anniversary of Fair House Act
By Sean Barron
Days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., the country’s mood had changed dramatically enough to fast-track the passage of legislation that promised to provide a major step forward in ending housing segregation.
A half-century later, however, much remains to be done to tackle the problem, an activist contends.
“Although it’s the 50th anniversary, not much has changed,” Adrienne Curry said, referring to what she sees as the state of housing discrimination since the passage of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act.
Curry, the Diocese of Youngstown’s social-action director, provided a history of the legislation President Lyndon Johnson signed into law April 11, 1968, during a forum Monday evening at the St. Dominic Catholic Church hall, 77 E. Lucius Ave., on the South Side.
Hosting the two-hour gathering to mark the anniversary was the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee of the Mahoning Valley. Acting as moderator was the Rev. Kenneth L. Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church.
Panelists were Delmus Stubbs, the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission’s outreach coordinator, and Colleen Kosta, Help Network of Northeast Ohio’s continuum-of-care program manager.
Soon after its passage, the FHA, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was tasked with enforcing, was weakened as well as poorly funded and enforced.
For example, in 1969, President Richard Nixon named former Michigan governor George Romney, the father of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as HUD secretary, yet took steps to stop him from withholding federal money from communities that fought desegregation, Curry noted.
One obstacle to realizing the FHA’s goals is restrictive covenants, which are clauses included in deeds or leases that limit what owners can do with the property. Another is red-lining, a discriminatory practice of denying services to people of specific, often racially associated areas, she continued.
Stubbs, a 22-year military veteran, discussed a variety of services his HUD-funded agency offers regarding housing and other assistance for homeless veterans of all military branches.
“We want to get those families returned to permanent housing as soon as possible,” said Stubbs, who also mentioned a program for which people can apply between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 to receive help paying their utility bills. For information, call the Veterans Service Commission at 330-740-2450.
Kosta told her audience of about 30 her agency, which works with several umbrella entities, helped about 1,000 people last year with housing and related needs. No residency requirements are needed to apply to the Continuum of Care effort, which can be accessed by calling 211, she continued.
Also at the program, state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, discussed House Bill 368, which she introduced to protect residents from predatory land contracts.