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Viewpoint: Discrimination in housing continues to take place

When fair housing laws are enforced, people have choices about where they live and aren’t relegated to neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or limited in their community access.

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Michelle Rydz, the executive director of Grand Forks-based High Plains Fair Housing Center. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

Every April, we celebrate Fair Housing Month in honor of the Fair Housing Act that was passed on April 11, 1968. The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, religion, presence of children in the household, and physical or mental disability. North Dakota offers additional state protections of age, marital status, and receipt of public assistance.

Open and barrier-free housing contributes to expanded social and economic opportunities for individuals and families, providing a pathway to improved life outcomes and stronger communities for all. When fair housing laws are enforced, people have choices about where they live and aren’t relegated to neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or limited in their community access.

High Plains Fair Housing Center is a statewide organization that works to eliminate housing discrimination and to ensure equal housing opportunities. We assist people who believe that they have experienced discrimination while attempting to rent or purchase housing. We conduct an investigation into potential housing discrimination, and we provide community education to promote fair housing.

In the past year, High Plains Fair Housing Center directly assisted over 190 individuals and families that experienced discrimination and over 80 households facing evictions. We were able to temporarily expand our mission in 2021 to address pandemic-related housing issues by assisting some tenants with legal representation in certain metro areas and by helping clients access the Rent Help program across the state. We processed more than double the calls to our intake line this last year compared to just two years ago. In 2019, High Plains FHC received 336 housing-related calls for the year. In 2020 we saw 569, and last year we handled 766 housing- related calls to the Center. Since our first year of federal grant funding in 2016, we have seen a steady increase in total calls to our intake line as more people learn about their fair housing rights and our organization, but the drastic increase in 2020 and 2021 echo the increasing crisis many in North Dakota face in both accessing and keeping housing.

Housing discrimination complaints to our center increased during the two years of the pandemic. In 2019, High Plains processed 180 fair housing intakes for the year, and that rose slightly in 2020 to just over 200. Last year, fair housing-related calls increased drastically to over 320. So, despite the laws that are in place, despite the agencies entrusted with enforcement and the option for individuals to file lawsuits, discrimination in housing continues to take place.

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I hope you will join us in many of the Fair Housing Month Events we have planned this month, including a free in-person and online event showing Jim Crow of the North on Tuesday, April 12, at 7 pm at the Fargo Theater. You can attend in person or online and can register on our website or by emailing info@highplainsfhc.org. If you think you or someone you know is experiencing housing discrimination, please call our intake line at 701-203-1077 or fill out a form on our website at highplainsfhc.org.

Fair housing is your right. Ensuring fair housing in North Dakota strengthens our communities and ensures equal access to our communities for us all.

Michelle Rydz is executive director of the High Plains Fair Housing Center, Grand Forks.

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