Housing bias targeted by state departments

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Department of Civil Rights Executive Director John Johnson Jr.
John Johnson, Director, Michigan Department Of Civil Rights

Capital News Service

LANSING – The Department of Civil Rights is ramping up its efforts to combat housing discrimination, including the undervaluation of homes in Black-majority neighborhoods.

Such discriminatory practices continue in Michigan despite the 55-year-old federal Fair Housing Act, which was intended to ban discrimination in the sale of housing based on factors such as race, religion, sex and family status, civil rights experts say.

A 2022 study by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. found that homes in majority-Black neighborhoods are more likely to receive an unfairly priced appraisal compared with properties in predominantly white areas.

That undervaluation adversely affects the selling price of homes and the ability of buyers to get mortgages.

Metro Detroit, Flint and the Grand Rapids-Kentwood areas have at least one majority-Black neighborhood with under-appraised housing, according to the study. 

The Department of Civil Rights is making fair housing a priority going into 2024, Executive Director John Johnson Jr. said. 

“We’re going to look into this and come together with some policy recommendations that we can make on both the private and public levels,” Johnson said.

The department is partnering with other agencies, including Insurance and Financial Services, Health and Human Services and Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. 

“We have communicated the need for revival with agencies that are part of our planning committee,” Johnson said. “The real effort is to look at this from a systemic perspective and see what we can do to reform policy, both on a public and private scale.”

Fair and affordable housing is a struggle across the board for counties, according to Deena Bosworth, the Michigan Association of Counties director of governmental affairs.

“There are problems in rural communities trying to attract business but can’t house the necessary employees,” Bosworth said. “It’s the same thing in the urban areas with skyrocketing real estate prices and a lack of inventory.”

People who have been negatively affected by appraisal and rental bias will testify at an upcoming hearing in Detroit on Nov. 8, hosted by the Department of Civil Rights.

“Where you live determines your wealth,” Johnson said. “People have been locked out of this process for so long.”

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