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50 Years After The Fair Housing Act, Buyers And Renters Still Face Discrimination In Pittsburgh

Lindsay Lazarski

The Fair Housing Act passed 50 years ago Wednesday as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Lawmakers enacted the legislation just one week after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as riots flared in Pittsburgh and other cities. It was intended to protect buyers and renters from discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status or national origin.

“Yes, we are better than 1968, but I can tell you we are not where Dr. King thought we would be 50 years later,” said Jay Dworin, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Fair Housing Partnership. “Landlords, housing providers, real estate agents, insurance agents, mortgage brokers, we still see discrimination on all of those fronts. All of them.”

Dworin said discrimination used to be explicit, for instance, people of color being told they could not rent because of the color of their skin. Now, he said it’s more covert, but the result is the same. His organization investigates instances such as families of color being told that a unit has already been rented to someone else.

Fair Housing Partnership hears an average of three complaints per week, with dozens of cases going to court each year. Pittsburgh’s Human Rights Commission mostly investigates complaints of discrimination by people with disabilities. 

“Under the law, a service animal is not a pet, it’s an extension of the individual, and so denying that accommodation is in fact a violation of the law,” said Carlos Torres, the agency's executive director.

He said the number of cases of those discriminated against because they have children is growing.  

Still, the commission only hears approximately 20 housing-related complaints per year, which is not indicative of discrimination taking place in the city at large.

“People may not be aware of their civil rights and protections,” he said. “People may be afraid to report the incident to us, because we are a law enforcement agency, so there’s the perception that we may communicate with maybe immigration or police.”

Torres said the city’s Human Rights Commission is working to improve community outreach, in order to investigate more cases of discrimination.