Advancing Civil Rights & Housing

Advancing civil rights and racial justice demands fair, affordable, and accessible housing.

Who lives where—and in what kind of home—is deeply affected by systemic and individual discriminatory policies and practices, which have shifted forms but persisted for centuries.

Our nation’s history of racist housing policies and practices is directly connected to today’s over-policing and disinvestment in Black and Brown communities, as well as the disproportionate and tragic harm that disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic have on people of color.

Controlling access to quality, affordable homes has underpinned racism for far too long, in far too many ways.

Redlining in the 1930s denied Black households access to home mortgages and drew community lines along racial boundaries that still exist today. Individuals and families continue to be denied rental housing because of their race. Government and private investments and policies benefit majority-white communities over everyone else, again and again. This has to change.

Housing Action Illinois is committed to advancing racial justice by expanding access to good, affordable homes for all.

We commit to listening to communities of color and communities that have not received investment, and we commit to shaping our programs and policy agenda with this expertise.

Addressing Housing Discrimination

What Is Fair Housing?

Fair housing is the right to choose housing free from unlawful discrimination. Fair housing laws, which protect against discrimination, are crucial, because where you live affects everything else in your life—your health, access to education, opportunities for employment, and more. The Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968 in the aftermath of the Chicago Freedom Movement and the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., committed our nation to a goal that we still fight for today: to eliminate housing discrimination and create equal opportunity in every community.

Today, more protected classes are included in the Fair Housing Act, and many of our communities are more diverse and welcoming than they were in 1968. The Obama Administration took an important step in 2015 to fight housing discrimination by strengthening existing federal rules for Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), which require local governments that receive certain federal funds to analyze challenges to fair housing choice and establish their own goals and priorities to address the fair housing barriers in their communities.

Martin Luther King Junior

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recent Fair Housing Developments:

  • At the beginning of 2018, under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) suspended the AFFH rule. In August 2020, the Trump administration issued a final rule repealing it. This effectively gutted a critical tool for achieving greater desegregation and housing equity.
  • In January 2021, President Biden called on HUD to examine whether Trump administration changes to several rules (including Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice, and HUD’s Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Standard) harmed access to fair housing. We hope that this will lead to the reversal of these harmful policies.
  • In February 2021, in accordance with an executive order by President Biden, HUD announced it would enforce the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • In March 2021, President Biden, as part of his infrastructure plan, The American Jobs Plan Act, called to eliminate exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies and recommended that Congress enact a competitive grant program that awards flexible funding to local governments that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to producing affordable housing. In many communities, exclusionary zoning laws (such as minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements and prohibitions on multifamily housing) have made housing more expensive and limited housing choices. This is a significant factor contributing to racial and economic segregation in our society.

Housing discrimination and segregation continue to persist in many forms nationwide, and we have a long way to go to build truly inclusive, equitable communities.

Fair Housing Month

Each April, we celebrate Fair Housing Month to reaffirm our commitment to ending housing discrimination and to commemorate the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act in 1968.

Check back next April for events and materials shared as part of this month’s observance.

Pushing for Equitable Investment in Communities

Federal Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)

The federal CRA is a landmark civil rights law passed in 1977 to end discrimination in America’s banking and housing markets. It is a critical tool for preventing redlining and promoting financial investment in low-income communities, especially disinvested communities of color, and for the minority-owned small businesses in these areas.

The CRA makes wealth-building more accessible through responsible homeownership opportunities, basic banking services, and capital for small businesses. To enforce the CRA, three federal regulatory agencies assess how well each bank fulfills its obligations to communities. The bank is assigned a score that is used to evaluate applications for future approval of bank mergers, charters, acquisitions, branch openings, and deposit facilities.

The CRA’s importance has become even more clear as COVID-19 lays bare the inequities that already existed in urban, suburban, and rural communities, with higher infection rates and occurrences of other health issues in historically redlined neighborhoods.

Recent CRA Developments:

  • In May 2020, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC), one of the three federal regulatory agencies, issued final rules on how it would evaluate bank performance and hold banks accountable. The House of Representatives passed a resolution disapproving of this action.
  • In May 2022, the OCC announced that it will halt implementation of the Trump administration rule that weakens the act. “All options are under consideration, including rescinding or substantially revising the current rule and working with the Federal Reserve and FDIC on a joint proposal,” stated OCC Acting Comptroller Michael Hsu. 
  • In early 2021, the Federal Reserve Bank—another of the three enforcing agencies—released a preliminary proposal to update the rules by which they hold banks accountable. In our comment letter, we called for the CRA evaluation process to include an explicit focus on promoting racial equity, among other recommendations. For example, CRA exams could include performance measures to assess services in historically disinvested communities of color, such as lending and investing in majority-minority census tracts outside of core assessment areas.
It's our money. Keep it in our neighborhoods.

Illinois Community Reinvestment Act (IL CRA)

On March 23, 2021, in a historic victory for low-income communities and communities of color in Illinois, Governor Pritzker signed the Illinois Community Revitalization Act (IL CRA) into law. With this legislation, Illinois joins Massachusetts, becoming the second state with an oversight system to ensure that residents are equitably served by all three major segments of the mortgage lending market: banks, credit unions, and state-licensed mortgage companies.

Housing Action Illinois, Woodstock Institute, and our CRA allies advocated strongly for the IL CRA, which compliments the federal CRA by providing oversight for state-regulated financial institutions, including state-chartered banks, savings banks, credit unions, and larger residential mortgage brokers. This broader coverage is particularly important: national research by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that a majority of mortgages—an estimated 60 to 70 percent—are originated by residential mortgage brokers and credit unions.

Governor Pritzker signining the IL CRA into law

What Have We Been Doing?

  • We are currently a member of the Illinois Coalition for Fair Housing, a group leading the campaign advocating for statewide source-of-income protection through an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act. This would require that all legal sources of income—including employment, retirement income, public benefits, and rental subsidies—be treated the same in residential real estate transactions. Denials based on source of income disproportionately limit the housing choices of African Americans, Latinos, persons with disabilities, and female heads of household. Denials based on source of income offer a legal pretext to refuse housing to protected persons.
  • We have partnered with Woodstock Institute and allies to form the Illinois CRA Coalition, whose goal is to strengthen and improve the CRA and promote equitable investment in our communities.
  • In 2021, we successfully advocated with allies to pass the IL CRA.
  • In the summer of 2020, we united with a group of 39 allies, including Woodstock Institute, the Office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, and the Office of Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs to send a letter urging federal banking regulators to use the CRA to address structural racism embedded in the financial system.
  • In early 2020, after campaigning against proposals to weaken CRA enforcement by the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, Housing Action joined Woodstock Institute, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, and other Illinois allies in speaking out against the final rules. In 2021, when the Federal Reserve System opened to comments regarding their proposed rulemaking, we worked with partners to submit suggestions and mobilize community-based organizations to share their recommendations.
  • We worked with allies across the nation from 2018–2020 to oppose proposals to gut the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing and Disparate Impact rules. Although not successful at the time, these efforts created the foundation for collective efforts to appeal to the Biden administration to restore the rules, which are in the process of review by HUD.
  • We opposed Trump administration proposals that attacked immigrant communities, such as the proposals to restrict “mixed status” immigrant families from subsidized housing (a proposal never finalized before the Biden administration took office) and the Trump administration public charge rule, an attempt to deny millions of immigrant families health care and economic support (the rule was struck down by the courts in November 2020, and under the Biden administration, the U.S. Justice Department stopped trying to overturn the court decision).
  • In the summer of 2018, Housing Action Illinois partnered with HOPE Fair Housing to facilitate community conversations about housing rights. We traveled throughout Illinois to educate groups on how the Fair Housing Act protects people in our communities.
  • In 2017, we developed a Fair Lending: Know Your Rights brochure to help people understand their rights.