Madison Led Wisconsin in Mitigating Housing Inequality
The housing industry has a long and ugly history of racial bias. In fact, between a resistance to adopting Fair Housing laws and damaging, discriminatory housing practices like redlining and racial steering, generations of minorities have been systematically barred from achieving the dream of homeownership in Wisconsin - and beyond. Unfortunately, these issues remain pervasive today. In 1963, however, one pioneering group of people made history by enacting the state’s first Fair Housing laws. Here’s the history of this important step in the fight for Fair Housing, and how you can continue fighting the good fight today.
Fair Housing in Wisconsin
While the federal Fair Housing Act wasn’t enacted until 1968, certain states took legal steps of their own to promote equality in homeownership years prior. Wisconsin is one such state.
Before 1963, Wisconsin had no laws, rules, or regulations preventing housing discrimination based on gender, race, disability, or any other identity. Housing segregation was a pervasive and dire issue, with only ~27% of Madison’s rentals and ~12% of the city’s homes made available to people of color. There were also no boards, commissions, or organizations actively working to further civil rights in homeownership, so, for generations, minority residents struggled to access and afford housing in Madison and across the state.
In early 1962, however, Madison activists began pushing for change. Lloyd Barbee, president of the Wisconsin branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a local attorney, drafted an ordinance comprehensively banning bias in public and residential housing, in employment, and beyond. Unfortunately, officials were not quick to adopt the ordinance, and Barbee eventually moved away. The following year, however, NAACP’s new chair Marshall Colston picked up where Barbee left off, urging Madison Mayor Henry Reynolds to take action. City attorney Edwin Conrad soon began drafting the final ordinance, and citizens began voicing their support and publicly pushing for change.
In late 1963, over 400 people packed the committee’s chambers, waiting with bated breath for a vote on The Equal Opportunities Ordinance. The hearing lasted more than six hours and, while the preliminary vote failed, a few key amendments and one eventual flipped vote resulted in this historic advancement for Fair Housing. The comprehensive ordinance finally outlawed the refusal to rent, lease, sell, or otherwise finance housing in Madison based on race, color, creed, or ancestry.
What Does Fair Housing Look Like Today?
While Madison’s Equal Opportunities Ordinance was a big win in 1963, people of color are still grappling with the ugly aftereffects of housing discrimination as well as biases and discriminatory practices that are still pervasive today. In fact, in late 2020, Black Americans had a 44% rate of homeownership, Hispanic Americans had a 49% rate of homeownership, and Asian, Native, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Americans had a 60% rate of homeownership. White Americans, on the other hand, had a 75% rate of homeownership. Today, banks are now offering grants aimed at raising minority homeownership rates, individuals across the nation are standing up in their communities, and NAR is working to provide their members with the tools for change.
“Last year, NAR worked with [The National Association of Real Estate Brokers] and the Urban Institute to develop a five-point framework to boost minority homeownership,” said NAR Vice President Vince Malta. “We’ve also developed innovative new training programs on implicit bias and confronting discrimination in real-life real estate scenarios… In January, we began implementing our new “ACT” plan – which emphasizes Accountability, Culture Change, and Training – designed to ensure REALTORSⓇ are doing everything possible to protect housing rights in America. We’re also working with our partners to develop a second ACT plan that advocates for housing policy that addresses systemic discrimination and the legacy of housing segregation.”
How Can Wisconsin Real Estate Agents Fight for Fair Housing?
With change on the horizon, there’s no better time to become an advocate in your community. Work to recognize and shed your own racial biases, volunteer, donate, and be sure to report any discrimination you may come across in the field. After all, securing universal equity in homeownership will take all of us!
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