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Fair Housing and Disparity in Peoria By Cheryll Boswell

This year marks the 49th anniversary of adopting Section VIII of the Civil Rights, also known as the Fair Housing Act.  In 1968 Congress passed legislation to prevent discrimination in housing based on race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. The Fair Housing Act covered four protective classes when it was originally passed: race, color, religion, and national origin. Sex was added as a protective class in 1974. Disability and familial status were included as protective classes in 1988.

For several years, the Fair Housing Bill could not get Congressional approval. The final step to approving the Bill came after the April 4, 1968, assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with all the civil unrest following Dr. King’s assassination. President Lyndon Johnson utilized the tragic death of Dr. King to get Congress to approve the Bill. President Johnson felt it would be a way for congress to honor the work Dr. King had done in housing in Chicago and calm the civil disturbances happening across the country.

Dr. King was instrumental in leading one of the longest civil rights campaigns in Chicago, known as the Chicago Freedom Movement. The Movements’ number one objective was to end substandard housing then known as slums in Chicago. The civil rights campaign demanded open housing, quality education, equal access to jobs, employment, tenants’ rights, and quality of life. President Johnson saw it as a fitting memorial to honor Dr. Kings life’s work and wanted to get the Bill passed before his funeral in Atlanta. On April 11, 1968, seven days after the death of Dr. King, the Fair Housing Rights bill was passed in Congress.

The Tri County Planning Commission for Fair Housing conducted a regional analysis of impediments to fair housing. The Commission for the first time examined fair housing issues on poverty, segregation, and access to opportunities that they hope will improve the quality of life for people who live in Peoria and Pekin. In 2014 the Tri County Planning Commission released a report stating Peoria is a racially segregated City. The report also identified five racially concentrated areas of poverty located in the southern portion of the City of Peoria and African-Americans were the majority racial group in each of these areas. Each area has a poverty rate above 40%.

A lot of feelings were hurt when the Wall Street Journal labeled Peoria as one of the worst cities in America for African-Americans, because of the concentrated areas of poverty, high incarceration rate, and the high unemployment rate for Black families. The poverty rate of 28.2% among the city’s Black population is well above the poverty rate among the city’s White residents of 10.4%. Two years later, still not sure what hurt most, being labeled the “worst” city for African American’s, or the fact our dirty laundry was aired nationally.

We all want access to opportunities in our neighborhoods, that include quality schools, healthcare, housing, food, jobs and transportation. In many communities these resources are very limited. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to improve our communities so that everyone has a fair chance to available resources and be successful, regardless of zip code.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of: Race or color, National Origin, Religion, Sex, Familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women and people securing custody of children under 18), Disability.

If you think your rights have been violated, there are several ways to file a complaint.

  1. Contact the HUD Chicago Regional Office. You can email them at: Complaints_Office_05@Hud.Gov. Mail the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Ralph H. Metcalfe Federal Building 77 West Jackson Boulevard, Room 2101 Chicago, IL 60604-3507 Phone: Telephone 1-800-765-9372 Fax (312) 886-2837 * TTY (312) 353-7143. Or
  2. Contact Prairie State Legal. Phone (309) 674-9831 Melanie Cannon is the staff attorney.