Historical Time Line

Fair and Equal Housing Historical Timeline


Following the emancipation of the country’s African-American population once held in bondage as chattel slaves, the country passed a very ambitious piece of legislation known as the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The law, among other things, sought to address the issue of fair and equal housing, to a degree, with respect to the country’s African-American population. The law, in relevant part, read as follows: “…That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.” The law was an integral part of the country’s Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson vetoes the law when it was intially passed; Congress eventually overrode the veto of President Johnson creating the law.


In the case of Gandolfo v. Hartman, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to enforce a resrictive covenant in housing against individuals of Chinese descent. The Court’s legal basis was found in the 14th Amendment. The covenant was held to be void and contrary to public policy.


The National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) began working openly to prevent fair and equal housing. Specifically, NAREB, one of the nation’s most prominent real estate organizations, among other things, directed signficiant efforts to prevent “residential race mixing.” These efforts continued well into the late 1050’s.


The U.S. Supreme Court issued its Buckley v. Warley decision. The decision ruled that racially restrictive zoning ordinances were unconsititutional. The law does not take immediate affect as states continued to uphold the local practice of racially restrictive zoning ordinances. The use of racial covenants in housing also increased at this time as well. Racial covenants became the dominant means by which to deny African-Americans fair and equal housing. .


The fight to destroy segregation and discriminatory racial practices in housing began in earnest when the NAACP began work on the case of Corrigan v. Buckley. James A. Cobb, a well known Washington D.C. attorney, and 1899 graduate of the Howard University School of Law, was lead counsel in the case. He turned to the NAACP when racially restrictive covenants were upheld by two courts in the District of Columbia. The NAACP had been involved in most of the major civil rights cases in the country since 1915 and could offer additional resources for the effort.


Corrigan v. Buckley case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court upheld the legality of racially restrictive covenants. Washington D.C. lawyer, Charles Hamilton Houston, who also served as Vice Dean (Dean) of the Howard University School of Law, also began fine tuning a legal strategy to outlaw racially restrictive raical covenants.


The Housing Act of 1937 is passed. It is the most important housing law passed up until that time in the U.S. For the first time, the nation realizes that something must be done with respect to housing in general in passing this law. The law is still the basis for government assisted housing programs (funding and programs) today and is legally in effect despite the passage of time.


U.S. Supreme Court decides the important case of Hansberry v. Lee. This case also involved a restrictive racial covenant in housing. While the Court did not void racial covenants, it did rule in favor of Hansberry. It was an important ruling in the legal war to outlaw racial covenants in housing. Carl Hansberry, an African-American businessman, was successful in defending his right to purchase a property in a white neighborhood. It was the beginning of the end for racially restrictive covenants.


In dual opinions in the cases of Shelly v. Kraemer and Hurd v. Dodge, the U.S. Supreme Court declares the enforcement of racially restrictve covenants by the state to be a violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Any enforcement, therefore is unconstitutional. The decision finally corrects the Corrigan v. Buckley case of 1926 that set back the cause of fair housing decades.


The Brown v. Board of Education decison is passed. Although it was not directly related to residential segregation, this landmark civil rights case declared that separate was inherently unequal. This case is often cited as one of the catalysts of the modern Civil Rights Movement. In addition, some of the legal straegies used in the Brown cases were used originallly in the racial covenant cases.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. This law prohibits discrimination and segregation in public places on the basis of race, color, national origin, or religion. The Civil Rights Act is the most comprehensive civil rights law in America. However, noticeably absent from the law is a provision that addresses the issue of housing and discrimination. Efforts to create such a law proved difficult.


The case of Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority (1966). The lead attorney in the case was Alexander Pollikoff. The case would set the stage for a nationwide experiment aimed at ending the concentration—and racialization—of poverty through public housing. The lawyers who worked on the case charged that nearly one hundred percent of all CHA public housing developments were placed in black neighborhoods. The CHA was required to allow black families, primarily through Section 8 vouchers, to move into less segregated communities. Finally, after many years of litigation and a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the case eventually led to the creation of the Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program, which helped thousands of poor families move to the Chicago suburbs.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved to Chicago in an effort to bring the civil rights struggle to the North. Dr. King moved in a Chicago tenement and immediately began engaging in protest actions and negotiations with the city’s powerful mayor, Richard Daley. Efforts to desegregate certain Chicago neighborhoods proved almost impossible as the civil rights protesters were met with direct confrontation by white residents of Chicago. The efforts of the civil rights protesters, while noble, were largely unsuccessful and Chicago remained segregated, for the most part, by race.


Congress passes the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of Civil Rights Act) in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status or disability by housing providers, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies. The law likely would not have passed unless Dr. King was, in fact, murdered. The law, however, is weak despite its comprehensive language. This is because the enforcement provisions lack any control and legal rigor. The damages are capped very low and HUD, the nation’s very essential housing agency, has little if any enforcement power. Almost immediately efforts to amend the law begin. Yet, opponents of the law itself are determined not to allow the law to become any stronger. Their efforts are successful.

The U.S. Supreme Court issues the opinion in Jones v. Mayer. The case is a huge legal victory. Using the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a law that was virtually ignored by the courts and the country when it was passed after the civil war ended, Jones declared that the law was valid and it applied to both private the public causes of action. This meant that private landlords discriminating on the basis of race were subject to the law as were public landlords. Unlike laws based strictly upon state action, the law did not use a strict 14th Amendment approach to its enforcement and reach. It is the first important fair housing case in the new era of fair housing. However, it is not based at all upon the Fair Housing Act.


In the case of James v. Valtierra, the United States Supreme Court held that a state constitutional provision constitutional that essentially required approval of the development of new low rent housing projects by referendum. The lower court decision had held the state provision to be violative of the 14th Amendment; the Supreme Court disagreed. The case was one of the early decisions interpreting fair housing laws that resulted in a poor outcome for the poor and for minorities. Almost as a companion action to the Valtierra opinion, President Nixon issued his fair housing policy as a result of the Fair Housing Act. The policy stated that federal law prohibited discrimination in housing; however, President Nixon did not require and in fact specifically stated that suburban areas and districts were not required to accept the integration of their ciities, towns, and counties with low income housing. This policy, in effect, promoted racial discrimination because it kept African-Americans (low income) out of suburban areas and promoted suburban segregation, according to Professor Charles M. Lamb, in his book, HOUSING SEGREGATION IN SUBURBAN AMERICA SINCE 1960.


Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Insurance, as decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a huge victory for fair housing advocates that year. The opinion, among other things, clarified who had standing to sue under the act and what the goals of the act are as written. As Justice William O. Douglas famously wrote: “We can give vitality to 810 (a) only by a generous construction which gives standing to sue to all in the same housing unit who are injured by racial discrimination in the management of those facilities within the coverage of the statute,” the Court essentially endorsed one of the underlying goals of the law — racial integration when it stated that a white person could sue under the law if they were, in fact, aggrieved by a violation of the law.


Two very important laws are passed that impact fair housing in the United States. First, the Housing and Community Development Act is passed. The law establishes the well known system of “community block grants” that provide for development of neighborhoods, communities, and cities with federal funding for certain projects. Secondly, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act is passed. This law bans discrimination by creditors on the basis of race, sex, marital status, color, religion, national origin, or age. While both of these laws were considered bold initiatives at the time of their passage, the effectiveness of each is subject to diverse opinions ranging from totally ineffective to somewhat effective in addressing the identified problems.


In 1976, in Hills v. Gautreaux, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that HUD could be required to work throughout the Chicago metropolitan area to remedy its past discriminatory behavior in Chicago. It was the most important fair housing ruling in the history of public housing. It essentially stated that HUD had to work to provide residents of Chicago trapped in deplorable, racially segregated housing with desegregated housing situations. The decision influenced public policy and contradicts many governmental decisions made both before and after it was rendered. Over 25,000 individuals received relief due to the decision in Gautreaux. A description of the program that removed the families can be found by clicking here Chicago History


Patricia Roberts Harris, a graduate of Howard University and former dean of the Howard University School of Law, is appointed Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by President Jimmy Carter. Subsequently, Carter changes his position with respect to suburban integration when he states that his position on the issue is the same as Secretary Harris. However, Secretary Harris’ bold efforts to promote fair housing more substantially are largely unsuccessful. The legal case involving the Village of Arlington Heights, a mostly white, solidly middle class sururb is decided. The area is totally racially segreated for the most part. The case is a setback for fair housing advocates. The case eventually makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court which holds that in order to force an area to rezone a parcel to accommodate a low to moderate income housing development on the basis of racial discrimination, those seeking the rezoning had to prove more than just effect. The individuals seeking the rezoning and alleging racial discrimination had to also prove intent. This made it much more difficult for advocates to prove a discrmination action and to, in effect, promote integrated housing.


Havens Realty v. Coleman is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is one of the key fair housing cases in history. The case is important because it provided the legal basis for “testing” in fair housing enforcement and ruled that testers do have standing to sue under the Fair Housing Act. In addition, the Court held that private fair housing centers around the country, the entities that enforced the law, also have standing to sue when the discriminatory actions of a defendant weaken the center’s activities.


The U.S. Congress passes the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. It was the culmination of 20 years of legislative struggle to correct the inadequacies of the original act. The act corrects many of the problems. Among other things, the amendments add persons with disabilties and familial status as protected classes. In addition, the enforcment provisions are strengthend. HUD has far more power in light of the amendments.

The Fair Housing Amendments are passed and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The law is comprehensive in scope and fixes some of the problems with the original act. The law extends protection to families with children and persons with disabilities and recognizes the special needs of the elderly. It also allowed, for the first time, the opportunity for aggrieved parties to avail themselves of an administrative process to seek redress. In addition, it also provided the Department of Justice more power as well as penalties were much more severe than ever before. These provisions, and others, improved the original act immensely.


Preident Bill Clinton appoints Henry Cisneros as Secretary of HUD. Cisneros’ reign is one of the most important periods in the development of fairer housing in the history of the country. Cisneros’ reign is aggressive and forward looking and tries to incorporate fair housing into all aspects of HUD’s programs.

As a member of President Clinton’s Cabinet, Cisneros transformed HUD from a mismanaged bureaucracy into an effective, efficient agency that actively worked against racial segregation and poverty in inner cities. He is also credited with the initiation of a major revitalization of many of the nation’s public housing developments and with innovative policies that have contributed to today’s record homeownership rate.


As stated in the following executive order found at the following link, President William Jefferson Clinton issued one of the most comprehensive and ambitious fair housing orders in the history of the executive branch. By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America,” it read, “and in accordance with the Fair Housing Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 3601et seq. ) (“Act”), in order to affirmatively further fair housing in all Federal programs and activities relating to housing and urban development throughout the United States…” Clinton’s order not only attempted to further fair housing in all programs in the federal government but it created a Fair Housing Council comprised of cabinet members to carry out the mission as explained in the order.


Meyer v. Holley was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and it was yet another very important ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court with respect to fair housing. The Court held the following: “The Act imposes liability without fault upon the employer in accordance with traditional agency principles, i. e., it normally imposes vicarious liability upon the corporation but not upon its officers or owners.”


Through a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Housing Legal Clinic at the Howard University School of Law is established at the law school. It is the first such clinic at a historically black university in the nation.


President Bush recognizes June 2006 as National Homeownership Month. Homeownership is an important measurement to the fairness in the housing system due to the fact that it encompasses many different aspects that fair housing laws cover including advertising, brokerage services, and lending. At the time of President Bush’s proclamation See proclamation, minority homeownership continued to lag behind the national average. While nearly 70 percent of all Americans own their homes, minority ownership is only approximately 50 percent.


The Fair Housing Clinic at the Howard University School of Law acknowledges the following sources for their assistance with this timeline:

  • Housing Segregation in Suburban America Since 1960 - Charles M. Lamb
  • As Long As They Don’t Move Next Door - Stephen Grant Meyer
  • Caucasians Only - Clarence Vose
Events Calendar