The State of Civil Rights 2008

By Alton, Kimberley | National Urban League. The State of Black America, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

The State of Civil Rights 2008


Alton, Kimberley, National Urban League. The State of Black America


In 2008, the civil rights community will rally its forces to confront a wide range of issues that are of key importance to the African-American community. Some of the most pressing issues this year include efforts to resolve the ongoing housing crisis in the Gulf Coast post-Hurricane Katrina as well as initiatives to provide legal assistance to those impacted by unfair mortgage lending practices. In addition, top priorities include plans to defeat anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives in several states while also lobbying Congress to restore civil rights laws that have been misinterpreted by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

With the ongoing humanitarian crisis on the Gulf Coast well into its third year, the sheer loss of affordable housing caused by Hurricane Katrina has created an entirely new homeless population in the Gulf Coast Currently, the State of Mississippi has 13,022 households in FEMA housing programs, of which 11,641 (or 89%) are still occupying travel trailers. These figures cumulatively represent an alarming estimate of 35,159 displaced individuals as of January 2008 in Mississippi alone.1 Despite the affected states receiving billions of dollars from the federal government to rebuild, too many individuals remain unable to return home and pick back up with their lives. Instead, they remain stuck in cramped and toxic trailers utterly vulnerable to the next hurricane.

A major barrier for these families is the lack of available affordable housing. As a result, civil rights advocates will continue to push federal, state and local governments to correct the missteps of their post-Katrina housing-assistance programs.

The lack of affordable housing is not isolated to the Gulf Coast. A 2005 study found that for every 100 households earning 50% or less of the median area income, there were just 76.7 housing units that were affordable (costing less than 30% of household income) and available (not rented by higher income households).2 This is down from 81.4 housing units from just two years prior in 2003. With just over 16 million households in this country earning 50% or less of the median area income, this translates into a total shortage of housing stock of about 3.7 million housing units.3

In light of these stark statistics, civil rights advocates will mark this year's 40th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act as a renewed opportunity to highlight and combat racial discrimination in the housing market. Signed into law in April 1968, the landmark Fair Housing Act includes broad prohibitions on atecriminatory activity in the sale and rental of housing. Yet, the law has had a disappointing impact in deterring continued housing discrimination. Racial discrimination in the real estate market, rental market, and in financing continues at high rates. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, every year, more than 1.7 million fair housing violations are committed solely against African Americans.4 An annual report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicates that of the 10,328 housing-related complaints handled by the agency in 2006, race and disability made up the largest percentiles.5 In an earlier HUD study, the agency found that among Blacks, Asians, and Pacific Islanders, one in every five customers encountered discrimination by rental agents.6 The harmful effects of these discriminatory housing practices have led to hyper segregated communities and schools across the country.

In too many cities, the quality of K-12 educational opportunities is directly linked to the racial makeup and economic level of the community. Last year's Supreme Court decision in the Seattle/Louisville cases hampered local school boards' efforts to achieve racial integration.7 Nevertheless, civil rights lawyers continue to defend school integration plans and work with local administrators to develop strategies that promote diversity in a manner that complies with the Court's opinion. …

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