April 11th of 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Fair Housing Act by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, which prohibited segregation and discrimination in housing opportunities and public accommodations. Last week, the City of Austin and the LBJ School of Public Affairs marked the occasion by hosting a four-day summit at the Austin Convention Center.
On Tuesday, April 3rd, Julian Castro delivered the keynote address. Castro is a former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Obama. You can view his entire speech at the video below.
Castro began his speech by commending Austin for its efforts to make it easier for vulnerable people in the city, such as homeless veterans, to find affordable housing. He also lauded the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) for partnering with tech companies to bring broadband access to residents of public housing, a program that became the blueprint for the federal Project Connect program.
Castro pointed out that the Fair Housing Act was born during a difficult time in our country with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F. Kennedy, and the Vietnam War raging. “There was tremendous division in our country,” Castro said. “At the same time, through the work of fair housing advocates, Martin Luther King, Jr and his followers, legislators, policymakers and President Johnson, the seeds were planted that would forever change the trajectory of so many American families in this country for generations to come.”
Castro pointed out a few victories HUD enjoyed during the Obama years fighting housing discrimination. In particular, he mentioned the passage of the Equal Access Rule, bringing members of the LGBQ community further underneath the protection of the Fair Housing Act.
While Castro acknowledged that many people have realized the American Dream as a result of enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, he also offered evidence that discrimination is alive an well in our housing markets. “Studies continue to show that people of color are at least 10 percent more likely to be treated differently when they go and try to rent an apartment or buy a home,” said Castro. “And, even the new technologies that we have in place for accommodations like Air BNB have shown themselves susceptible to human bias. Facebook, not too long ago made advertising available to folks who had a house to rent. It also allowed them to select by race and ethnicity who could see those ads.” Castro said that was a clear violation of the spirit, and likely also the letter, of the Fair Housing Act.
Castro also said we’ve entered another time of division in country where vulnerable populations, which the Fair Housing Act was designed to protect, have come under attack. Castro challenged Austin to be an exemplar of communities that will continue to connect the dots of economic opportunity and quality of life. He also urged Austin leaders to work cooperatively with leaders in the suburbs who often don’t appreciate the need for affordable housing as much as their urban counterparts.