Dr. Martin Luther King's Fair Housing Legacy

MLK's Fair Housing Legacy

Every January, we celebrate the life and achievements of American civil rights activist, minister, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An advocate of nonviolent social change, Dr. King was instrumental in the civil rights movement throughout the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps best known for his leadership during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and the Selma to Montgomery march. Less commonly known is his tremendous influence on the passage of the Fair Housing Act.

By the mid-1960s, decades of unjust government policies in lending and real estate had created a system to exclude black people from owning a home. Practices such as redlining and restrictive land use laws effectively made it impossible for black Americans to purchase a home and build the equity and wealth-building assets that come with homeownership.

In 1966, Dr. King co-led the Chicago Freedom Movement to call attention to these discriminatory housing practices in Chicago. Through a series of marches in majority-white neighborhoods, demonstrations, and testing to uncover real estate bias, Dr. King brought the demand for open housing to city leaders and eventually negotiated an agreement. The progress made that year laid the foundation for the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which made it illegal to discriminate against anyone looking to rent, buy or access financing for housing nationwide.

Despite being one of the first states to adopt laws that prohibit housing discrimination, Ohio still has significant gaps in homeownership between white and black people (Figure 1). Ohio has the second largest gap among neighboring states (Figure 2), with the largest disparity in the Northwest (Figure 3). This is partially linked to racial biases that persist in mortgage lending. In Northeast Ohio, black Americans are more than twice as likely (22.7%) to be denied a home loan as white Americans (8.3%). The outlines of redlining maps are still visible as well when looking at disparities in health outcomes and life expectancy in Cuyahoga County and in evictions in Columbus and Cleveland.

Although challenges still exist, Dr. King's profound influence and legacy lives on in those who continue to advocate for stronger neighborhoods and equal access to opportunities. In Ohio, there are nine Fair Housing Centers established throughout the state that are part of the larger National Fair Housing Alliance. These centers serve as community resources, providing education on housing rights as well as protection and advocacy for those who have encountered discrimination.