CLEVELAND — April is a month of celebration for equal housing rights.
National Fair Housing Month honors the Fair Housing Act that passed on April 11, 1968. The law is designed to protect Americans from facing discrimination in selling, renting or buying houses. While there’s been a lot of changes since the Fair Housing Act passed, local advocates say we’re still behind as many people are still not covered and others continue to face discrimination.
“The Fair Housing Act was put into place to expand housing protections,” said Tanesha Hunter, Director of Education and Outreach at the Fair Housing Center for Rights and Research. “When it was first signed, you know, there were only four protected classes: race, color, national origin and religion.”
Hunter says the Fair Housing Act has evolved in 2022 as the “Biden administration just added an executive order that would allow protections under the basis of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity.” However, the discrimination in which the law was created to eliminate still exists.
Amber Shy, a mother of four, says her housing nightmare came to life after she and her kids moved into a Euclid home in July 2019.
“It was definitely a blessing that turned into a nightmare,” she said.
Shy says minor management issues came up after she moved in before things eventually escalated. Shy, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression in 2005, says those conditions were triggered by facing the reality of her daughters graduating high school back-to-back, one of them going to the army and the pandemic.
“My psychiatrist thought that having a service dog would be beneficial because then I would never be alone in that,” said Shy. “She wrote me a letter basically to the landlord or to any establishments saying that this would be her service dog.”
Though Shy’s lease approves of service animals, he says her landlords gave her an ultimatum.
“They told me he had 24 hours to get rid of the dog.”
Shy had to give up her dog and agreed to leave her home of two years sometime later, but not before she reached out to the Fair Housing Center for legal help.
“I never knew I had rights,” Shy confessed.
Hunter told News 5 more than 30,000 housing discrimination cases in Northeast Ohio come to light annually and each year our region lands itself on the U.S. Department of Housing and Development’s (HUD) radar.
“On average, for the past few years, they have taken about 141 complaints just in our region for housing discrimination,” Hunter said.
Hunter says the deep-rooted reason fueling housing discrimination is redlining. She says expanding renter protections is crucial to helping end the cycle of discrimination. Yet, spreading awareness on housing rights is a top priority as many housing discrimination complaints go unreported because people do not know their rights and often times do not know they’re being discriminated against.
“We’re no more integrated than we were 50, 60, 70 years ago and that plays a huge part," she said.
As a traveling sterile processor for hospital operating rooms, Shy lives in and out of hotels with no real place to call home.
“It's very devastating for my family,” she said,