Everyone Has a Right to Decent and Fair Housing
Erie HRC fights discrimination, injustice
In the summertime, with the outdoors calling, it can be harder to appreciate the value of a good roof over one's head. But regardless of the weather — warm and inviting or cold and drab — all individuals have a right to decent and fair housing for themselves and their families.
The federal Fair Housing Act was signed into law on April 11, 1968, by President Lyndon Johnson. It was an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap, and family status.
In Erie County, residents have additional protection under the Human Relations ordinance passed by Erie County Council in November 2007. That ordinance states in part "that the County and City of Erie have come together in a partnership to promote the rights and opportunities of all persons to participate in the social, cultural, recreational, and economic life of the County and to assure equal opportunity for all persons concerning employment, housing accommodation, and commercial property, education, public accommodations, lending practices, and real estate practices without regard to race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability of the person." This same law (Ordinance 39) establishes the Erie County Human Relations Commission (HRC), whose job it is to enforce the provisions of the ordinance and investigate complaints alleging ordinance violations.
The concept of fair housing for all is easily taken for granted by real estate professionals and the general public. But for someone who has been the victim of housing discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, religion, disability, or sexual orientation, such discrimination is real and exists in our community.
For the victim of housing discrimination (or discrimination of any kind), it is very easy to "move on," look elsewhere and not "rock the boat." But if this perceived discrimination is not reported and properly investigated, the practice may well continue. That's where the Erie County Human Relations Commission comes in.
If you feel that you may have been a victim of housing discrimination (or discrimination in employment, public accommodations, education, lending or other real estate practices) because of your race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability, please contact the Erie County HRC at 451-7021 to discuss your concerns. A commission staff member can provide answers and help you decide whether or not you should file a complaint. You can learn more about the HRC and the complaint process by visiting eriecountypa.gov/county-services/other-services/human-relations-commission.aspx.
In addition to providing a system of equal justice, the Erie County HRC strives to educate individuals about the appropriate way to confront discrimination, while at the same time teaching them to respect and understand diversity. It is important to remember that if you perceive discrimination, the Erie County HRC is here to help. An educated and involved public is the best way to combat discrimination in any community.
Bob Howden is Vice Chairman of the Erie County Human Relations Commission. He is a retired public relations professional.