April was national Fair Housing Month and this year’s theme was "Shared Opportunity in Every Community."
Despite much progress over the last half-century, including the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, and the funding of billions of dollars to help create affordable rental housing and promote homeownership, regrettably we have not yet achieved the full potential and promise of these legal advances and funding commitments. For many, market forces, government policies, personal bigotry and a lack of knowledge contribute to the denial of this “shared opportunity in every community”.
Today, there is an affordable housing crisis, the homeownership rate is down, inequality is up and discrimination seems to make the news almost daily. Throughout Maryland, BNI has worked hard this past year, receiving, investigating or referring 202 discrimination inquiries/complaints, conducting 136 tests of housing providers and we have had a record outreach year, conducting 65 education and outreach programs connecting with nearly 1,200 people from Allegany County to Wicomico; from Cecil to Prince George’s, and points between and beyond. Attendees include elected and other government officials, landlords and other housing industry providers, housing consumers, advocates, grant makers and more!
Nationally, fair housing achieved an historic advancement when, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that unintentional discrimination resulting from policies and practices, may violate the federal Fair Housing Act. (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Community Project, Inc.)
Locally, BNI, the Baltimore County NAACP Chapter, and other complainants reached a significant conciliation agreement with Baltimore County. The agreement, facilitated by HUD, was the result of a complaint, filed in 2011, that identified the lack of affordable housing in the County for families with children and those with disabilities. After years of discussion, the agreement reached will result in the creation of 1,000 new housing units throughout Baltimore County. The agreement also provides that the County will commit to fund fair housing education, outreach and enforcement initiatives to be conducted by a qualified fair housing agency, such as BNI. We thank Baltimore County, the individual complainants and our legal counsel for their perseverance and commitment.
In another local development, BNI responded to the allegations of sexual harassment within the Housing Authority of Baltimore City by contacting the agency and offering to conduct fair housing training for employees. BNI is now conducting a series of trainings, mandatory for all HABC personnel.
Much attention has been made in the media recently about the severe shortage of affordable housing in Maryland for homeowners and renters. This especially impacts the middle class and low- and moderate-income households. BNI collaborates with other nonprofits and academic institutions working to reform the rent court process, prevent evictions, and promote affordable housing in every community. Our Tenant/Landlord Hotline program continues to provide trained counselors fielding thousands of inquiries from around the state. We are proud to be one of the few agencies offering impartial guidance to both tenants and landlords!
We are grateful for the support of our funders and donors, our Board of Directors, volunteers and our hard working staff.
If you would like to learn more about what we do to promote justice in housing, or to serve as a volunteer or tester, please contact me or other BNI staff.