An event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing into law of the Fair Housing Act took place on Thursday at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, DC.
The gathering included a display of the original document signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1968 on loan from the National Archives and remarks about how the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. led to the passage of the bill one week after his death as a way to honor his memory.
But the focus of the commemoration was the expansion of an initiative started last fall focused on sexual harassment discrimination in the U.S. housing sector, particularly the public housing section.
“The Fair Housing Act has fundamentally transformed America,” Acting Assistant Attorney General in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division John Gore said at the event, adding that the federal law ended segregation in many parts of the country and replaced “poverty with prosperity.”
“At the same time, today we recognize that there is still much work to be done to fulfill the universal promise of the act and break down the barriers that continue to discriminate against too many people in our country,” Gore said.
The expansion of the initiative includes DOJ partnering with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because both agencies field housing discrimination complaints.
“All discrimination stains the very fabric of our nation,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said at the event. “But HUD is especially focused on protecting the right of everyone to feel safe and secure in their home, free from unwanted sexual harassment.”
“No person should have to tolerate unwanted sexual advances in order to keep a roof over his or her head,” Carson said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions also spoke at the event.
“This is indeed a serious problem,” Sessions said, citing the numerous cases DOJ has litigated based on sexual harassment discrimination in housing.
“We’ve seen many cases — especially in public housing — where a landlord will exploit vulnerable women and threaten them with eviction unless they provide sexual favors,” Sessions said.
Sessions announced plans to expand its sexual harassment initiative, including new training programs for public housing authorities and raising awareness about how HUD and DOJ have authority under the Fair Housing Act to intervene when housing discrimination of any kind takes place.
Sessions said training also will be expanded to all 94 U.S.attorneys offices on enforcement and outreach to the “public housing community.”
“Our goal is greater than just prosecution,” Sessions said. “Our goal is to end this illegality and unacceptable behavior.”
“The FHA and its implementation has changed over the years, but the basic principle is the same, and in the United States of America no one should be improperly subjected to discrimination — overt or covert — in their choice of housing,” Sessions said.
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