Between 50 and 60 providers of services to homeless and at-risk members of our community attended Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance’s “Your Life, Your Home, Your Choice” 2012 Fair Housing Conference on April 24.
Offered as part of GBLA’s Fair Housing Law Project, the conference, held at Kern County Mental Health’s Commonwealth Building facilities on the corner of Oak Street and Truxtun Avenue, featured seven presenters who tackled such issues as race and national origin discrimination in housing; special housing-related problems for domestic violence survivors in rural areas; barriers to finding housing for transitional age youth; legal barriers to housing for individuals with disabilities, and more.
Keynote Speaker Christopher Brancart, a partner in the San Mateo County-based law firm of Brancart and Brancart, which specializes in housing litigation, hailed GBLA for hosting this first-ever event. “We now have a fair housing advocacy organization that we never had before in this community,” Brancart said.
Mark Roy, GBLA’s Supervising Attorney for the Fair Housing Law Project, set the tone for the conference when he said, during his introductory presentation, “The residents of Kern County have the right to live in the home of their choice as long as they qualify for it.” He said fair qualifying factors for housing are such things as a person’s rental and credit history and their ability to pay rent. Factors such as age, gender, sexual preference, or disability status should not figure into the to-rent-or-sell/or-not-to-rent-or-sell equation, because if they do, that is considered discrimination.
Unfortunately, in reality, unfair or discriminatory practices in housing (both in renting and selling) are often the norm in America.
“Segregation has been practiced throughout most of the history of the United States,” said Jess Nieto, Executive Director of the Heritage of America Educational and Cultural Foundation, whose topic was “The Problem of Race and National Origin Discrimination in Housing.”
Brancart echoed Nieto's statement when he said that in the 1930’s race was used as the main criterion for deciding home prices. This was part of the genius of the Fair Housing Conference: that the presentations of different speakers complemented one another so well and effectively.
Some barriers to homeownership for minorities today, Nieto said, are a lack of accessible homeownership education and predatory lending practices that increase the cost of mortgage and the risk of default for people of color.
Brancart was even more explicit: Since deregulation in mortgage lending, which began in the 1990’s and reached its peak last decade, he said, “If you were a person of color, you got a crappier loan than a comparable white person would get.” He added, “People targeted for predatory loans are also targeted for predatory foreclosures.” Predatory lending also includes “affinity fraud,” Brancart said, which is defined as people of the same racial or ethnic group praying on one another.
But Brancart had some hopeful news for attendees: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is issuing new regulations to ensure fairer housing, he said. Discrimination in housing due to sexual orientation, age, or disability, or other arbitrary policies put in place by HUD-funded agencies that are in violation of the Fair Housing Act will be clamped down upon more stringently, he said.
Roy said he is hoping to start a sort of fair housing review panel in Kern County, inviting Kern County Homeless Collaborative members and other stakeholders to look at existing challenges and barriers to fair housing that exist in our community, with a view to making fair, affordable housing a reality for all.
For more information on GBLA’s Fair Housing Law Project, please contact 661-334-4679 or 888-292-4252 x 1179, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online resources dealing with fair housing include:
California Landlord/Tenant Book: http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/index.shtml
HUD and Department of Justice Joint Statements on Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications for Housing for People with Disabilities:
Reasonable Accommodation in Federally Assisted Housing Outline from the National Housing Law Project: http://www.nhlp.org/node/452
- Top Photo: Lots of useful literature was provided to Fair Housing Conference Attendees.
- Second Photo: Mark Roy, Esq., with Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, opened up the conference with a thorough introduction to fair housing issues.
- Third Photo: Keynote Speaker Christopher Brancart, Esq., a partner in the San Mateo County-based law firm of Brancart and Brancart, gave an animated lunchtime presentation.