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Conference reflects on Fair Housing Act

| Friday, April 20, 2018

A conference dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act started Thursday night and will feature several panels and speakers on Friday starting at 9:30 a.m. at Eck Hall of Law. This all-day conference hopes to re-educate people as to why the Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, is still relevant today and why housing issues still deserve the public’s attention.

“We also want this conference to be an opening conversation to re-look at fair housing issues,” Judith Fox, clinical professor of law and the organizer of the event, said in an email. “There is a misconception out there that discrimination has been ‘solved.’ It has just changed clothes.”

Recently, the St. Joseph County Bar Foundation organized a reading group dedicated to issues of discrimination. One book it focused on was Gabrielle Robinson’s “Better Homes of South Bend,” which tells the story of African-American workers who came up north for jobs. When they were unable to buy homes, they created their own neighborhood of homes.

“Although the Fair Housing Act was passed 50 years ago, we cannot celebrate it fully because although we have won individual victories, the battle has not been won yet,” Robinson, who will speak at the conference, said.

Fox said housing discrimination is why many people have been trapped in poor neighborhoods and poverty. Another group involved in the conference, the Contract Buyers League of Chicago, came together in the 1960s over unfair land contracts pointed at African-Americans because banks refused to lend them money.

“We do not teach [fair housing] … or we teach it as ancient history,” Fox said. “Housing discrimination is still a part of the American landscape.”

The conference will feature other attorneys, writers and professors speaking on informational topics involving fair housing and will end with an open panel that will include policy makers, academics and local residents. The panel will discuss how discrimination appears today and how we can fight it.

Jay Lewis, a South Bend lawyer involved in the conference, said that South Bend’s history of segregation led to the problems with housing that still persist today.

“The segregation of our past and to some extent, our present, is at the root of the fair housing issues,” he said. “We are hoping to get some momentum at Notre Dame and in South Bend to fight for fair housing. We are hoping to get more people interested in digging into this topic and learning more about the history of South Bend.”

Robinson said housing discrimination has deep ramifications and the fight for fair housing can help people in the future, as well as the future of the country in general.

“I know from the ‘Better Homes’ experience that it’s not just for people to live more comfortably, but it has a huge effect on the next generation,” she said. “Fifty percent of the ‘Better Homes’ kids have college educations, and they became teachers and lawyers and professors. … It’s really important for the success of future generations.”

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