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Reflections on 56 Years of the Fair Housing Act

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Headshot of DiNesha Rucker
Photo of DiNesha Rucker

By DiNesha Rucker a 2022 Fellow in the Housing Justice Program DiNesha is hosted by the Homeless Persons Representation Project, Inc. 

Each April, we celebrate National Fair Housing Month. This year marks the 56th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability in the sale or rental of homes and other housing-related activities. This April, it is important to reflect on the fervorous fight that led to this landmark legislation and thoroughly reexamine how we, as legal change agents, can continue to shape and transform systems to ensure fair housing for all. 

Through my work, I am often reminded of how important the promise of the Fair Housing Act is. I have observed gaps between the ideals that this Act instills and the realities of navigating housing laws and housing court. As a Homeless Youth advocate, I have seen how the programmatic and bureaucratic structures of federal housing programs negatively impact transition-aged youth struggling with mental illnesses.

As a Homeless Youth advocate, I have seen how the programmatic and bureaucratic structures of federal housing programs negatively impact transition-aged youth struggling with mental illnesses.  

DiNesha Rucker /
2022 Fellow in the Housing Justice Program

My client Pauli’s case illustrated this gap. Pauli* was a 24-year-old Housing Choice voucher recipient facing eviction due to thousands of dollars in unpaid rental payments. At age 24, Pauli already had a long history of homelessness but fortunately received a conversion voucher while residing in residential housing for homeless, transition-aged youth ranging from 18-24 years old. While there, Pauli was diagnosed with several mental and cognitive disabilities including bipolar disorder and depression. These disabilities impacted Pauli’s ability to complete everyday tasks, and as a result, found it difficult to secure and maintain employment.  

Photo of DiNesha (left) with Senator Muse of Maryland and two team members.
Photo of DiNesha (left) with Senator Muse of Maryland and team members.

Pauli consequently fell behind on nine months of rent. Initially, Pauli continuously tried to contact the Housing Authority’s general inboxes and several staff at the Housing Authority directly to report their loss of income. Those communications either went unanswered or inadequately responded to for months. Pauli, despaired and paralyzed by the fear of returning to homelessness, was under an exorbitant amount of anxiety and fell into frequent bouts of depression. 

Subsequently, eviction proceedings were initiated against Pauli. In response, I worked with Pauli to mount a Fair Housing defense against the eviction and request a retroactive rent adjustment. We were successful with the Housing Authority conceding, on record, that Pauli was not responsible for the alleged amount. However, the question remains: why were my services necessary? Why was this young person’s housing ever in jeopardy?

We were successful with the Housing Authority conceding, on record, that Pauli was not responsible for the alleged amount. However, the question remains: why were my services necessary? Why was this young person’s housing ever in jeopardy? 

DiNesha Rucker /
2022 Fellow in the Housing Justice Program

Although Pauli’s case highlights obstacles that typical participants face while navigating federal housing programs, it is important to consider these obstacles within the context of their specific circumstances. Pauli was not only a transition-aged youth but was also  dealing with several mental and cognitive disabilities. When reexamining programmatic and bureaucratic structures, we must consider the vulnerabilities of these populations. 

Photo DiNesha Rucker and the Homeless Youth Initiative Team at HPRP sitting together and smiling
Photo of DiNesha Rucker and the Homeless Youth Initiative Team at HPRP

Often, transition-aged youth in federal housing programs struggle to effectively navigate the complexities of the program or the structure of housing authorities. Homeless youth are still developing mentally, emotionally, and socially, and require unique services and support until they are able to sufficiently support themselves in adulthood. Additionally, participants may have varying abilities to navigate the systems put in place and respond to issues arising during their program due to mental or cognitive disabilities. 

Practices and patterns of housing authorities may also be harmful to the mental health of those suffering from disabilities. 

The complexities of federal housing programs and the bureaucratic structure of housing authorities generate inaccessibility. Pauli experienced confusion with program requirements and frustration related to how to respond and who to contact regarding emerging issues. When authorities did attempt to respond, direct contact information was gatekept and Pauli was stonewalled by inadequate responses. This threatened Pauli’s housing stability and negatively impacted their mental health for months.  

The spirit permeating through the Fair Housing Act is accessibility. Like a ramp into a building, systems must be structured with equitable safeguards to ensure that our most vulnerable populations have access. The reality remains that many people with disabilities are being evicted, even when meritorious claims exist. It is imperative that we consider how we can possibly ensure that the system protects our most vulnerable populations from the onset—during National Fair Housing Month and throughout the rest of the year. 

*Indicates the client’s name has been changed for the sake of privacy. 

To learn about the other Fellows working to increase access to fair housing through our Housing Justice Program, click here To read more about DiNesha’s work, click here. 

The spirit permeating through the Fair Housing Act is accessibility. Like a ramp into a building, systems must be structured with equitable safeguards to ensure that our most vulnerable populations have access.

DiNesha Rucker /
2022 Fellow in the Housing Justice Program

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