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White House Announces Rule Strengthening Fair Housing Practices


It is going on 50 years since the Fair Housing Act came into being. Communities receiving federal money had to make sure people did not face discrimination when seeking housing. The Obama administration has now announced a new policy to ensure that law is living up to its promise. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from Chicago.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It was in Chicago, nearly 40 years ago in 1966, that Martin Luther King Jr. came to fight for open housing. He told a friendly crowd how blacks were rebuffed at real estate offices when they wanted to look for housing in white neighborhoods.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: And then soon after that, we sent some of our fine white staff members into those same real estate offices, and the minute the white person got in, they opened the book - oh, yes, we have several things. Now, what exactly do you want?

CORLEY: Two years later, after King's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. He called it the promise of the century. It banned discrimination and required cities and states that receive federal housing money to take steps to ensure that everyone has equal access, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex and other factors. Now, in this 21st century, HUD Secretary Julian Castro traveled to Chicago to talk about a new promise.


JULIAN CASTRO: It is always great to be in the Windy City.

CORLEY: In a city that's still considered hyper-segregated, Castro announced what he called a historic new rule under the Fair Housing Act.

CASTRO: Over the years, there have been piecemeal attempts to clarify and support local efforts to affirmatively further fair housing, and now we're streamlining and improving that process.

CORLEY: HUD will give communities reams of data so they can impart analyze segregation patterns and assess fair housing issues in the area. Rob Breymaier, with the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, says that information will allow communities to find out what's missing.

ROB BREYMAIER: So in some communities, what's missing is there's not enough jobs. In other communities, what's missing is there's not enough affordable housing. In other communities, what's missing is there's not a welcoming atmosphere.

CORLEY: The new rule requires those communities to come up with a plan to do something about what's missing. Marca Bristo works on housing for Access Living, a disabilities rights organization. She says she's grateful the rules call for transparency and planning goes beyond race and ethnicity.

MARCA BRISTO: It's extraordinarily difficult to track where populations of people with disability live, but even more so, when accessible units are developed, no one knows where they are.

CORLEY: Marisa Navara of the Metropolitan Planning Council says the fair housing rule is an important step for cities but will be even more effective if entire regions embraced it.

MARISA NAVARA: In the sense that people are thinking across the board about, where do we house people? How do we provide a base quality of life for people across our region?

CORLEY: In Congress, there have been efforts to prohibit HUD from implementing the rule. Critics call it overreaching, but Castro says it's not the federal government's aim to do planning for communities.

CASTRO: We're approaching this very aspirationally - looking to collaborate with communities. We believe that the vast majority of communities will use this assessment - a fair housing tool to make better policies.

CORLEY: A new HUD map paints a stark reminder of the segregation that continues to exist across the country, and those communities that failed to take steps to follow HUD's new fair housing rule could lose federal funds. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.