McKeesport and partners tout fair-housing program
Nearly half a century after the Civil Rights Act defined fair housing practices, McKeesport and its partner agencies are spreading the word about equal housing opportunities.
Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in the sale, rental, financing or insurance of a dwelling on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age or family status. In Allegheny County, discrimination also is prohibited based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It's a right under the law for every person, regardless of these protected classes, to have the same opportunities as another person,” McKeesport's fair housing officer Angelia Christina said. “Any town, city or county that is part of an entitlement community, which means that they receive money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, is required to affirmatively further fair housing in their district.”
With its own community development department and HUD-supported agencies including McKeesport Housing Authority and McKeesport Housing Corp., the city has a revolving dialogue on housing and related practices.
“You could probably go to any department within the city, and a part of the Fair Housing Act probably touches every office in this building and a ton of places within the community,” Christina said. “When you say ‘fair housing,' it's not just about houses. It's about lending. It's about access to services. It's about reasonable accommodations.”
Recognizing April as Fair Housing Month, Christina said it's important for the public to recognize discriminatory practices and for legal fair housing requirements to be met in all facets of the housing system.
Discrimination could rear its face in the severe form of refusal to rent or sell property or a subtler refusal to make repairs or modifications. It could be a different set of terms or privileges based on any of the protected classes.
While McKeesport has its own fair housing officer and human relations commission, the city does not hear its own discrimination cases.
If a resident would report perceived discrimination in McKeesport, Christina would refer that individual to the Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
“They all do enforcement,” Christina explained. “I do outreach and intake.”
While fair housing outreach is part of the national calendar in April, McKeesport promotes fair housing opportunities year-round.
“Our commitment to affirmatively furthering fair housing is posted on the city's website (www.mckeesport-pa.gov),” Christina said. “And our local agencies work together to educate the public about their rights.”
McKeesport Housing Authority deputy executive director Diane Raible said fair housing education is not only valuable to residents, but to landlords and rental agency staff.
To avoid violating anyone's rights and to make sure every person is treated fairly, she said, renters and repair crews must be able to recognize their obligations under the Fair Housing Act.
In late spring or early summer, Raible said, the housing authority will invite city staff and local agencies to take part in a fair housing education workshop that provides a legal briefing and guidelines for fair housing practices for authority staff.
“It's important for all of the staff to be trained in fair housing law in order to abide by our mission statement of providing safe, decent affordable housing,” Raible said of housing authority crews.
McKeesporter Freddie Lewis, who serves on the city's human relations commission, said there are housing opportunities available to everyone. He encouraged residents to educate themselves and reach out to local agencies that are willing to help.
Lewis, who is working with McKeesport Housing Corp. to obtain a mortgage for his Bridge Street town home, said he's happy to have access to information and resources that every homeowner could use.
“I wish more people would get into programs like this,” Lewis said of a homebuyer workshop series that takes place periodically throughout Allegheny County. “There are nice houses out there that people can buy. It was very beneficial to me to learn the steps you have to take to own a home.”
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.