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Fair housing — Exploring the impact on families and communities

April is Fair Housing Awareness Month, commemorating the passing of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status in the rental, sale and financing of houses.

This protects our basic rights as individuals regarding housing, offering protection to homeowners and renters alike.

While you would not think that a law should be necessary for all people to have an equal opportunity to housing in the U.S., the unfortunate truth is that even with the law in effect, discrimination does still occur.

Fair housing discrimination can happen in numerous different ways.

For example, a landlord may refuse to rent to someone based on the color of their skin or their religious beliefs.

A landlord may reject a rental applicant because she is a single parent, or on the grounds of a family who is rebuilding their lives in the U.S. after fleeing war in another country.

While it is heartbreaking that this kind of discrimination still exists in our modern world, at the very least it has been made illegal.

I’ve found that awareness of these protections and the legality of a person’s rights to rent or own a home are sometimes unknown.

In my capacity at Catholic Charities, I spend time with clients and participate in community initiatives that help educate and advocate for fair housing practices to be implemented in counties we serve.

With an ongoing housing crisis, it is more important now than ever to be educated about renter and homeownership rights.

These protections even extend to banks, who historically practiced patterns of bias when approving home loans, though we see this less often today.

Catholic Charities is one of three HUD-Certified Housing agencies for the 38 counties in the Diocese of Jefferson City.

As the HUD-Certified Housing Counselor, I have had the unfortunate reality of addressing Fair Housing Claims.

It’s disheartening to know that, while these protected classes are in place, the housing market does not always afford individuals the dignity they want and deserve.

HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, takes fair housing seriously and has worked hard to help alleviate discrimination.

If you feel you have been the victim of housing discrimination, please file a report with HUD or reach out to me at Catholic Charities for assistance in reporting discrimination.

Everyone should have equal and fair access to the most basic need of a home.

The impact of discrimination in housing attacks people in the most personal way.

Could you imagine being evicted from your home for your religious belief?

Or, because you have a disability?

Catholic Social Teaching forms us to understand that everyone should be able to go home at night to a place where they feel safe.

Any time discrimination occurs, feelings of great fear that this will happen again begin to plague individuals and families — oftentimes targeted at minority and vulnerable populations.

Housing discrimination furthers the poverty gap by preventing historically persecuted members of our society from creating generational wealth through homeownership and stability they can pass down through their family tree.

It’s nothing new for me to say it outright: discrimination has a significant and lasting negative emotional and financial impact.

Many counties across Missouri are currently experiencing a significant lack of affordable and safe housing.

In this climate, landlords can quickly fill their rentals with those who have the best credit score and income.

This is a great benefit for landlords and for some rental applicants or first-time home buyers — but we have to ask, who does it leave in the margins?

For someone without perfect credit, rental history or employment history, even working up the courage to apply can be a challenge.

Discrimination adds an ugly and unnecessary burden to the search for sustainable housing.

Every client that I meet with, for any housing reason, is provided with fair housing information.

That’s what it means to provide care and create hope at Catholic Charities — that we as an agency are committed to honoring the dignity of our clientele through education, support and goal-setting.

Outside of the one-on-one work, we look for ways to advocate and participate in the housing initiatives that will be the solution to forclosures, chronic eviction and homelessness.

The only way that we can work to end discrimination completely is for each of us to know what it looks like and speak up whenever this occurs.

Please join me this month, in praying for a world where discrimination is no longer a barrier to housing.

And join us in looking for ways to serve others who deserve, but do not have, fair housing.

Paige Orscheln is the HUD-Certified Housing Counselor at Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. As one of two HUD-Certified Housing Agencies for our 38-county diocese, her assistance in renter and homebuyer education, credit and budgeting counseling, and securing affordable housing are an integral part of our Community Services Program.

April is Fair Housing Month. The housing market has been in flux dating back to the COVID-19 pandemic. For some that’s meant selling a home quickly, and successfully. For others that’s meant a tight market that prefers buyers who can exceed seller expectations — thus pricing out many who are seeking affordable and safe housing on a limited budget. You can learn more about our HUD-Certified Housing Counseling services and about how you, your parish, your school, or your classroom can engage with Catholic Charities to increase access to fair housing at cccnmo.diojeffcity.org.