Monday, October 25, 2010

On Fair Housing (And Other Never Ending Crusades)

In the 1960's civil rights activists successfully campaigned to outlaw housing discrimination based on race and ethnicity. In later years laws were expanded to protect the handicapped and other groups from housing discrimination. Although I am reserved about allowing the state to mandate how individuals utilize their private property, I am generally supportive of fair housing laws, because they defend individual rights and promote social mobility and integration.

Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of history will know that when an individual or organization achieves the primary goals that justified their existence, most will do almost anything to avoid becoming irrelevant. Rather than gracefully retire, they will invent new demons and never ending crusades to pursue. Even after winning the war, the general will invent new threats and wage new wars to justify the maintenance of a large army, to perpetuate his importance. And the once great civil rights activist Jesse Jackson now circles the nation like a vulture desperately seeking discrimination that will thrust him in front of the camera.

When I came across an article published by the Lawyers' Committee For Better Housing, I realized that this phenomena holds true for many fair housing activists. Through their prior efforts, clear mechanisms were established to protect individuals from housing discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family status (having children) and physical status (being handicapped). Federal, state and local bodies exist to investigate claims of discrimination and those found guilty can face steep penalties. But, rather than gracefully bow out, they have organized a new crusade to justify their continued existence - "the protection of section-8 voucher holders against discrimination, or more specifically to force property owners to participate in a government program.

In order to fully understand how flawed and troubling this crusade is, we must acknowledge that there are many landlords who are not opposed to the program in principle, but simply cannot bear the bureaucratic burden. For example, I have been personally presented with a 5 hour window by a section-8 inspector. Within 48 hours I had completed the minor list of repairs that the inspector had mandated, but I was forced to wait 2 weeks for another inspection. After waiting several hours, I was met by a different inspector who was indifferent to the fact that I had meticulously attended to each and every repair that his associate had ordered. In order to justify his position, this inspector generated a whole other list of repairs, which I immediately attended to. And two weeks later I was met by an entirely different inspector who was equally indifferent to the files of his predecessors. To make a long story short, the landlord endured 3 months of bureaucracy, 3 months of lost income and in the end the rent was $200 less than expected. So, when asked for my opinion of the program, my response is "my section-8 tenants have been great...I wish I could say the same for the bureaucrats who administer it..."

The Lawyers' Committee presented some heavy handed recommendations to the city, including:

"Mandatory education for landlords and housing management companies on fair housing generally and specifically on the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance's prohibition of discrimination based on the use of housing voucher."

"Increased monitoring and testing of Chicago landlords and housing management companies for compliance with fair housing laws."

The phenomena of the never ending crusade also explains the inflation of old rights and the invention of whole new rights. New rights are rarely invented by the people who they are designed to benefit, but by activists who fear their own unemployment and obsolescence. I whole heartedly support the right of these activists to partake in any government program of their choice, but ask that they not force others to do so.

1 comment:

  1. It will be very useful for all handicapped and their association.