Speech at Fair Housing Foundation Reception, Long Beach, CA
Thank you for inviting me to participate in today’s event. It is a pleasure to be here with you to celebrate the 38th Anniversary of the Civil Right’s Act of 1968. I want to especially thank the Board of Directors of the Fair Housing Foundation. Your work covers a large chunk of the 39th District and your service helps constituents in many of my cities, including: Paramount and Lynwood. Your service on this board and the work the staff does makes this foundation successful. I thank this foundation for its commitment and dedication to fair housing since 1964. It took a lot of courage to advocate for and build multi-ethnic communities at the time you started your efforts. And as we look to the future, there are new challenges that we face when it comes to realizing the dream of fair housing for all. But first, I would like to reflect a little bit on the topic of today’s celebration.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Although the first series of civil rights acts passed in 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 made the promise of housing equality a reality. As you know, the 1968 Act prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap and family status. Back in 1968 these were TRULY radical ideas. Refusing to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin was completely commonplace. Restrictive covenants even prohibited selling to certain people. In addition, when you advertised the sale or rental housing unit you could indicate your preference based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The provisions contained in The Civil Rights Act of 1968 truly changed history in a very personal way for Americans.
Our lives and family histories are tied up and interconnected to the places we call ‘home’. That’s what makes housing so personal. No matter how far I travel or how much time I spend in Washington, one thing is true for me; Lakewood and California’s 39th District are my home. Every time I turn down my street and see my house, I am thankful that it is my home. I am grateful that I won my own piece of the American Dream. That my family can gather together under my roof. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 ensured that as a Mexican American, I could purchase a home in whatever neighborhood I wanted to. The Act truly turned houses into homes for families across America. It was also the first time the federal government acknowledged its responsibility in giving every American a fair chance at owning a piece of the American Dream.
The 1968 Act was the first time that the government stepped up and provided real solutions to unfair housing practices. The Act gave us the legal tools to protect and ensure fair housing for all. As you know from working in this field, community based organizations, like yours, social service agencies and the government must remain vigilant and dedicated to fighting housing discrimination. Despite decades of civil right activism by your organization, and others, housing discrimination still persists.
Just the other day I was reading the LA Times and came across a very interesting article about housing discrimination. The article talked about how federal housing regulators are fielding more and more complaints about discriminatory ads. Currently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee is taking on the popular Internet site Craig’s List. As you may know, this web site is popular among young people when they look for housing. Yet the fair housing group compiled over 100 discriminatory ads over a 6 month period. According to the article, two of the most egregious ads stated: “No minorities.” And another read: “African-Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me so that won’t work out.” These are some of the most over examples but there are also more subtle forms of discrimination as well.
HUD and Lawyer’s Committee are arguing that the same standards of the fair housing act that we apply to print housing ads should be applied to Internet housing ads. To be fair to Craig’s List they have stated that they are concerned about these discriminatory housing ads. I think this case is a great example of the new challenges we face. New technologies, like the Internet have changed the way people search for housing, but the fair housing laws are still in the process of catching up. Often times, congressional action lags behind advances in technology. As more and more people are migrating to the Internet to find housing classifieds, it is imperative that we meet the new fair housing challenges head on.
Congress must reconcile Internet freedoms with fair housing rights and civil rights, and balance both interests. I know this is an issue that Congress will have to revisit soon. Let me tell you that under the current Republican Administration, I’m a bit afraid to tackle civil rights issues. I am currently working on the Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and I’m afraid we may lose ground where civil rights are concerned. We cannot afford to go backwards, so you have my commitment to fighting for civil rights and fair housing protections in Congress.
And I must conclude by saying, the work you do everyday celebrates the spirit of this civil rights act and inspires me. You are the warriors in the trenches, on the front line, delivering the promises of the American Dream to all families.
Thank you for your work! Again, thank you for inviting me to share this special day with you. Keep up the wonderful work!