Understanding Fair Housing

Photo © by Bernard Kleina

Housing discrimination does immense harm not only to families and individuals, but to entire communities.

Housing discrimination not only restricts housing choice, but perpetuates residential segregation. Housing discrimination and residential segregation contribute to:

  • Social and economic inequalities by impeding access to educational, employment, and other opportunities;
  • Homelessness, neighborhood disinvestment, and concentrated poverty;
  • Disparities in homeownership and accumulation of personal wealth; and
  • Stereotypes, fears, prejudices, and perceptions by consumers that certain housing or areas are not open or will not be welcoming.

While reinforcing feelings of privilege and advantage among some, housing discrimination and segregation leaves others to despair that they are relegated to an inherently inferior status in American society.

The New York City region has one of the most diverse populations in the United States. And yet, housing discrimination and residential segregation are deeply pervasive. A 2021 study ranked the New York City metropolitan area as the most segregated in the nation.*

We all should be able to live in open, accessible and inclusive communities. To progress as a community we must replace hate, intolerance, and discrimination with compassion, respect and inclusion. This means reducing racial isolation and concentrated poverty, eliminating discriminatory barriers to housing choice, ensuring that housing is accessible for persons with disabilities, and expanding opportunities for all in our region.

Fair Housing Laws

The history of housing discrimination and residential segregation spans more than a century. And during this long history, many significant strides have been made in the fair housing movement to make communities open, accessible, and inclusive to all.

Fair housing laws protect all of us from housing discrimination. In the New York region, there are federal, state, and local laws that prohibit discrimination in the rental, sale, insuring, and financing of housing.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity)
  • National origin
  • Familial status
  • Disability

The New York State Human Rights Law includes all of the federally protected characteristics and also prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Military status
  • Lawful source of income
  • Immigration/citizenship status
  • Status as victim of domestic violence, sex offenses, and stalking

Inquiries into arrest records are also impermissible under New York State Human Rights Law.

The New York City Human Rights Law includes all of the federal and state protected characteristics, and also prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Domestic partnership status
  • Lawful occupation
  • Height/weight

Other localities in the New York region have fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination in housing based on additional protected characteristics. Please contact the FHJC about protections available under these local laws.

What You Can Do

There is much work yet to be done to eliminate housing discrimination in the New York City region. This is why the FHJC has developed our action program to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen fair housing laws.

There are many ways that you can get involved in this work:

  • Reporting housing discrimination is the first step to ending it. If you have been discriminated against or know someone who has been discriminated against, the FHJC can assist with allegations of housing discrimination. To report housing discrimination, click here.
  • Because housing discrimination is so subtle, the FHJC also pro-actively initiates investigations to identify, document, and eliminate systemic housing discrimination. Learn more about our innovative testing program here.
  • The FHJC recognizes that people are empowered to exercise their fair housing rights when they are better informed. Therefore, the FHJC engages in outreach and educational activities to increase public awareness about fair housing rights. If you are interested in learning more or hosting a training on fair housing rights in your community, click here.
  • The FHJC advocates for programs and policies that advance the development of more open, accessible, and inclusive community. If you are interested in becoming an advocate for fair housing in your community, learn more here.
  • Without the support of our testers, cooperating attorneys, partner organizations, volunteers and donors, we would not be able to fully operate our innovative action program to eliminate housing discrimination in the New York City region. If you are interested in joining our movement, make a gift to the FHJC here.

(* The Roots of Structural Racism, UC Berkeley, 2021)