Ups and Downs - Summer 2020

 

Steve Cain
Summer, 2020

I recently had to do an on-line refresher course on Fair Housing. Everyone in the real estate industry is supposed to know something about Fair Housing – both the legislation, and the shameful history of housing discrimination that made it necessary. Indeed, you cannot hold a real estate license in the state of Illinois without at least a cursory knowledge of this subject. Fair Housing legislation emerged from the Civil Rights movement in the 50s and 60s and is intended to provide a legal back-stop against housing discrimination and the many wrongs it created over a period of decades and even centuries.

As a brief review, for most of our history, housing discrimination was widespread and codified into law through restrictive deed covenants and zoning practices. Red-lining denied credit to many minority buyers by cutting off mortgage lending in large areas of cities where the poor and minorities lived. These actions resulted in extreme segregation and made it almost impossible for many minority groups to purchase a house.

Fair Housing grew out of the Civil Rights struggle which took off in the late 50s and early 60s and resulted in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. This legislation made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It laid the basis for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 – also known as the Fair Housing Act – which specifically addressed housing discrimination and made it illegal to do many of the things that had been both common and legal prior to this legislation.

Since the 1964 and 1968 legislation was passed, these laws have changed and evolved to include more protected classes of people, and an ever expanding view of the concept of Fair Housing. Despite all this legislation, housing discrimination did not disappear after 1964 or 1968. The reason real estate professionals take refresher courses like the one I just completed is because housing discrimination is still very much alive and well. This is a battle that is still being waged, and the best way to win the war against it is to know what housing discrimination looks like so that we can fight it when we see it.

Which got me to thinking…

It occurred to me that there is a new form of housing discrimination that has recently gained ground and that is taking place right in front of our noses, but that few people have identified for what it is.

I’m talking about the housing discrimination that is occurring in certain Wards around Chicago represented by Progressive Aldermen who are using severe downzoning and usurious permitting fees as a way of keeping developers out of certain neighborhoods.

Just a few of the most egregious recent examples of this trend were the rezoning of a 7.2 acre residential site in Pilsen from residential to industrial by disgraced and now retired Alderman Daniel Solis (25th Ward); the downzoning of a quarter-mile stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Kimball and Central Park by Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward); and numerous attempts to downzone or otherwise shut down development in a large area of the city close to the 606 Trail. Some of the Aldermen who have used downzoning or who have otherwise supported a ban on development around the 606 Trail, include Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward), Ramirez-Rosa and Daniel LaSpata (1st Ward).

I can already hear the outrage and indignation of these Aldermen and other City Council Progressives at the notion that they are in any way guilty of the kind of discrimination that Fair Housing legislation is supposed to prevent.

But think about it. These representatives have strong political support from very specific groups of residents of their Wards who clearly do not want to see new and wealthier (and, yes, often whiter) residents moving into “their” neighborhoods. And they are resorting to many of the same tactics that white, racist community leaders used not that many years ago to keep “undesirable” people out.

I would say two things about these tactics:

First of all, in 2020, are we still so tribal in the city of Chicago to presume that certain neighborhoods “belong” to certain people? For the record, they do not.

Second of all, housing discrimination is always wrong, no matter who perpetrates it and no matter the excuse.

In my view, the actions these Aldermen have taken is a clear violation of both the spirit and the letter of the Fair Housing laws. The law of the land (and the moral high-ground) as set forth in the 1968 Fair Housing Act and its successors is that everyone should have the right to live where they want, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status or disability, gender and families with children. In Illinois, you can add pregnancy, ancestry, age, order of protection status, marital status, sexual orientation, unfavorable military discharge, and physical and mental disability to that list.

Look it up. It’s the law. And it is being flagrantly violated under the misguided banner of “social justice.” There is no justice in housing discrimination – no matter who that discrimination targets.

Steve Cain is Secretary of RPBG. He writes articles and compiles content for our quarterly newsletter. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of RPBG and its Members.