By Stephanie Gonzalez Palumbo
Hispanic Heritage Month is a special time for reflection on the struggles, strides and successes the Hispanic community has faced over the years, as they weave a colorful, prominent identity in the diverse fabric of America.
One of the most prominent struggles many Hispanics continue to face, even decades after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, is unlawful housing discrimination. Erroneous perceptions of Hispanics and immigrants, often limit their housing choices. While the terms Hispanic and immigrant are not synonymous, they are often conflated by housing providers seeking to hinder members of both groups from accessing fair housing. Overt forms of housing discrimination, such as a housing provider’s outright refusal to show a rental unit or house because of the home seeker’s perceived race or ethnicity, continue to occur among many groups, including Hispanics. However, it may be the subtle, less obvious forms of discrimination that demand more of our attention, especially in the larger context of a nation conflicted on how to address immigration reform.
The ERC continues to hear heartbreaking stories from Hispanic community members who have experienced differential treatment and discrimination based on perceived immigration status, familial status, accent and limited or non-English proficiency. Limited housing choices means limited options, and the quality of those options are closely tied to where one lives. For example, options for schools, hospitals, employment, and transportation are directly related to one’s location of residency and can have an influence on one’s quality of life.
Exacerbating the challenges related to language differences is a fear of retaliation for filing complaints, and a distrust of institutions and government. There is also a general lack of access to information about fair housing rights and responsibilities. The ERC is doing its part to promote and ensure that all community members—regardless of race, color or national origin—receive equal housing opportunity, through advocacy, individual and systemic investigations, and outreach.
As a Hispanic female advocate, I am proud to be part of a team of advocates and passionate leaders at the ERC who strive daily to dismantle civil rights barriers that obstruct and fragment our culturally-rich society. When ALL community members enjoy fair and equitable access to housing choices, we can then strengthen all aspects of community life.