(PRWEB) November 13, 2013
Progress made over more than 50 years of fighting housing discrimination makes the United States the global model in how to combat this rampant discrimination, says Professor Michael P. Seng of the Fair Housing Legal Support Center at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
International housing experts look to the United States for advice on how to combat the prejudice because “there is nowhere in the world that isn’t touched by housing discrimination,” he said.
Seng, who has worked for fair housing for more than 30 years, was a guest presenter at a Critical Legal Studies Symposium, an annual meeting for the European community. This year’s program was at Queen’s University Belfast in Ireland, in September. Seng was invited by a program organizer who had researched fair housing strategies in Chicago in 2012.
Seng said in the United States, discrimination is often a visible action—discrimination against a minority group—but in Ireland and elsewhere, there typically is no outward sign that a person is being discriminated. He found the location of the conference was “particularly appropriate,” since housing discrimination is flagrant in Northern Ireland.
“I would ask, ‘How do you know he belongs to a different group?’ and the answer would be ‘We just do.’ There are lots of imaginary lines that society sets,” he said.
In one outward sign, however, a Central European community built a wall, according to Seng, to keep out the Roma, the biggest ethnic minority of Europe.
“The European Union declared that to be illegal, but in Europe, there are few laws, if any, dealing with housing discrimination. We are very lucky that we have had these laws in place since 1968,” Seng said. Listening to stories from conference participants “in many ways was like talking to people here in the 1950s and 1960s, before we had the Fair Housing Act. It’s just part of their culture.”
As part of his presentation, Seng offered a history of housing discrimination, a review of the Fair Housing Act and its impact, and recent initiatives by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
While Seng and others fighting for fair housing admit discrimination does happen today, the culture of the United States has shifted considerably. “We have the clearest documented history of housing discrimination,” Seng said. “We acknowledge it’s a problem and we work to reduce its incidence through laws we have in place to protect those facing discrimination.
“The racist things that were said 50 years ago are no longer acceptable in society. We don’t protest when someone moves into a neighborhood. Realtors know they cannot discriminate when showing properties. We protect minorities and special classes, like the disabled,” Seng said. “I think it’s important that we are being recognized for these changes in society. We have come a long way, and others can follow our lead.”