Housing Discrimination History and Remedies

Why do we need the Equal Opportunity Housing Program?

You hear the term Equal Opportunity Housing, but do you know the background and history of the term? More importantly, do you know what would be considered discrimination in the United States? What classes are protected? Where can you go if you feel that you are a victim of discrimination?

The United States is a culturally diverse nation that benefits when discrimination is eliminated

How we arrived here

The United States of America is a newer nation. We are a large continent, a powerhouse of innovation, and our citizens have a reputation for being focused on progress. Over the years we set the tone for a fair-minded approach to life. Other countries have marveled at our ability to gather together and make something better despite our differences. It has not always been that easy though.

Frequently you hear people say that the United States is a nation of immigrants. This is not true. We are much more than that. American citizens can trace their heritage to only 3 sources. Less than 2% of the population (American Indians) can claim long term affiliation with the Americas. The majority of us have only been on the continent since the 1700s or later and about 15% of the American population can even trace their heritage to slavery!
Not all of us were dreaming of the new life when we landed in America, many of our ancestors were just fighting to survive as best they could. Some immigrants arrived by jet plane but most of our ancestors arrived after enduring long passages in death ships or slave boats. Together we built a nation of hardscrabble survivors with a “can-do” attitude.

How we come together

Americans can point to a million great milestones of success but our country is not infallible. Sadly, poor treatment of the native population and the repulsive acceptance of human slavery will always be a part of our history. Many immigrant newcomers have also experienced prejudice and discrimination and some of fellow Americans continue to experience it even today. The good and the bad are all part of the threads of who we are. Thankfully though we do admit our problems and we attempt to correct them.

When you look at the history of the rights of property ownership in the United States you can see this growth and the slow drive forward toward hope and dignity. Here’s a quick reminder of some of that history as it relates to property ownership.

The 1800s to the early 1900s – Starting to correct the widespread problems of discrimination

Rights for former slaves:

In 1865 the 13th Amendment of the United States forbade slavery and noted that all those who were enslaved were free. Once this passed former slaves were officially United States Citizens.

In 1866 the civil rights act became law. The act said that citizens were to be treated fairly no matter what background they had.  Now that people were free of slavery they were supposed to get the same rights as other citizens. Because of this law, previous slaves could do things like vote, own property, manage money, etc. They were American citizens so they should have the same citizen rights after all. Thomas Mundy Peterson was the first former slave to vote. He cast his vote in 1870 in New Jersey.

Homeownership did not come easily to the emancipated slaves though.  During the civil war, they had been promised land with suggestions that they could get up to 40 acres and a mule to start their new life. In reality, any land that was taken during the war was returned to the original owners and the former slaves had to deal with new local laws which forbade them from gathering in groups, owning land or worshiping together. These new laws were called “black codes”.

In 1868 this civil rights act was incorporated into the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution so that it was clear that our nation’s stance was dedicated to eliminating inequality. Obviously, the legislation couldn’t eradicate all hate or injustice, but it was a good move forward. It was a direct affront on the black codes and the Jim Crow laws that followed but it didn’t stop discrimination in earnest. Prejudice and discrimination were in full force throughout the years ahead. Jim Crow laws were finally eliminated because of the civil right movement of the 1960s.

Rights for Women:

From 1839 to 1890 American women were also fighting for their right to own property. Women first started to receive limited powers at the state level. In 1833, Mississippi gave women limited rights to inherit or own property when their husband was unable to manage or had died.

This started a ripple effect across the states. The Married Women’s Property Act of New York which went into effect in 1848 was the great tipping point in this movement. The New York act was copied across the nation and it paved the way to allow women to own property throughout the country.

By 1890 state laws had given females the right to inherit or own their own property in the United States. Before that, American had to rely on her husband for everything. She couldn’t earn money and keep it, and she couldn’t go out and buy a property or get a loan without getting her husband’s signature and approval.  It took till 1920 before the American woman was allowed to vote though, and she wasn’t able to get her own credit card till 1974.

The 1960s in America – Addressing Housing Discrimination

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

This piece of legislature shifted the whole outlook of the country. We integrated schools and public places, addressed voting inequalities, stated that it was illegal to discriminate in employment and so much more. It truly was a major step toward equality for all.

The Fair Housing Act

In 1968 the Fair Housing Act became law. Fair housing laws followed in the spirit and intent of the civil rights act of 1964. The National Association of Realtors embraced this new legislation and worked tirelessly to get the word out. Till this day real estate agents who join the Realtor association must agree that they will go above and beyond the letter of this law. As a member of the Realtor Association, they say that they will treat all Americans with dignity and respect.

Over time Fair Housing has changed to adapt to the culture and other groups have been added as discrimination is uncovered. The current protected classes are as follows:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex*
  • Familial Status*
  • Disability *

*(added later)

Gender became a protected class in 1974, prior to that it was legal to discriminate against single women.

People with disabilities and families with children were also added to the list of protected classes by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 because they also were experiencing discrimination when they went to apply for apartments or when they went to look for homes.

Eliminating Housing Discrimination 1970s forward

Banks can’t discriminate when making loans

In 1974 the federal government also passed a credit rights act which stated that creditors were not allowed to discriminate in loan making. So the banks were not allowed to discriminate based on sex, religion, familial status, color, or age as a prerequisite to getting a loan to purchase a home. It is illegal to discriminate when lending money.

(If you heard the term, “Predatory Lending” this refers to unscrupulous lenders who usually target minorities or the elderly to take advantage of them. Discrimination is illegal, but sadly it can still occur).

Credit Rights for single women

In 1974 “gender” was added to the list of classes that could not be discriminated against. Now women could own their own property and be able to get loans and credit cards without their husband’s signature. These freedoms could be traced directly to the civil rights movement.

Rights for families and people with disabilities

Sadly, people discriminated against families or against people who had disabilities and they could do so legally until these classes were also incorporated into Fair Housing in 1984.

In 1990, the Americans with Disability Act also came into being. This provided more explanation of what is considered a disability and clarified that people who have disabilities are expected to be treated with equal respect as those who are without impairments.

Are there exceptions to Fair Housing Laws?


  1. Communities designed to serve only senior citizens are allowed without violating Fair Housing. On the surface, age restrictions look like a violation, but the government believes that they have special circumstances associated with their age so they allow the exception. Communities can say that they only allow people older than 55 to purchase in the community. To do this though they have to get certified through Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and show that 80% or more of their residents will be senior citizens (or older than 55). Nursing homes have to show an age minimum of 62.
  2. If you own a single-family house and you rent it directly without the help of a real estate agent and without advertising you are not tied to these rules for fair housing. However, you must own no more than 3 of these homes.
  3. Some private clubs or religious organizations can also limit who lives in a property they own. So, for instance, a monastery can say that a young family should not be able to move into their community as the living arrangement is designed to serve their religious affiliation and the needs of the religious people who live there.

2019 – The battle for housing rights continues

What about LGBTQ citizens, are they in a protected class?

No. LGBTQ rights are currently not one of the protected classes, but there are rules which state that they are to have equal access and there cannot be discrimination for programs that are Federally funded such as section 8 housing, and federally mandated programs. Additionally HUD encourages people to report discrimination based on sexual orientation but currently, HUD leaves it up to the states to address the problem when discrimination occurs.  Sadly, this causes problems for members of the LBGTQ community.

There is a lot of pressure being put on the HUD to clarify the wording and add this protected class to the law about discrimination. In the meantime, the courts are working to show that there is discrimination and that it is not in keeping with the rule of the land. The Supreme Court currently has three (3) cases on their docket which may change this.  Also, there is an Act working its way through the legislative branch that has to do with equality for sexual orientation or gender identity.  If you want to learn more about this, read about it in the blog we posted here, or click on this link and you can learn more.

Have you encountered discrimination regarding housing?

There is a lot you can do if you feel that you have experienced discrimination in regard to housing.

If you were working with a real estate agent you can notify the state licensing board about the problem, and you can also contact the Realtor Association.  Real Estate Agents who hold the designation of Realtor adhere to a Code of Ethics.  That ethical standard focuses on helping all members of the public.  Please note that this ethical code does state that Realtors will provide fair treatment to members of the LGBTQ community as well as the stated classes listed in the Fair Housing Act.  The Realtor Association recognizes that discrimination is hurtful and not good for the community at all.

If you have any other issues with lenders, attorneys or other people that are part of the homeownership process, you can contact HUD directly.  They have a hotline, and they can tell you how to handle any problem that you encounter.  Furthermore, each state has a real estate commission, so you can also reach out to them with your complaint.  If you are in North Carolina, where we are located, then click on this link to find out about the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.


Thank you for taking the time to read about how the fair housing laws developed over time.  I hope you found it informative.

If you are looking for help to buy or sell property, please reach out to us at (919) 868-4310.  We help people locally in the Triangle area of North Carolina, but we are also happy to help you connect with a great Realtor anywhere in the country or abroad.

Feel free to send us a note if you want any help:


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