Susie McClannahan, fair housing program coordinator for the Equal Rights Center (ERC), visited the Do Good Accelerator in November to share with students how the ERC protects people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation. Susie’s visit was part of the Do Good Accelerator’s Lunch with Leaders program, which brings industry experts to campus to encourage students to deepen their understanding about social issues and enable students to think of new and innovative approaches to solve today’s pressing challenges.
As the Fair Housing Program Coordinator, Susie works closely with individuals and families in the greater Washington DC area that believe they have experienced housing discrimination. Under the Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968 and since updated, it is illegal to discriminate against race, color, national origin, sex, religion, familial status or disability in housing. The Equal Rights Center tries to uncover such violations based on tips from community members and by conducting civil rights testing. For example, if they receive a tip that a certain apartment building is discriminating based on race, the ERC will send in a white tester and a black tester with identical applications to measure the result.
When conducting civil rights testing, the Equal Rights Center also looks for policies that create differential treatment and disparate impact. Differential treatment is evident when two or more people are treated differently based on a certain identity or identities. Disparate impact appears when policies and actions are not blatantly discriminatory, but their language or implementation creates discrimination. It is also important to note, Susie says, that just because something is discriminatory does not make it illegal. This is why organizations like ERC exist, to help identify cases of illegal discrimination.
Even though the Fair Housing Act was passed 50 years ago, there are still changes being made and debates surrounding what is protected. Today, there is controversy surrounding whether or not sex protections include sexual orientation and gender identity. There are also emerging issues around criminal records, the criminal screening processes used by rental properties and the legacy of racism in the criminal legal system.
Although it may seem difficult, there are plenty of ways that students can get involved with the Equal Rights Center and their mission.
- See something, say something. Students (and anyone else) can submit a lead to ERC when they believe they have experienced housing, employment, accessibility or public accommodation discrimination.
- Be engaged. Anyone can become a member of the Equal Rights Center or even apply to be a tester.
- Fight for ADA compliance. Another growing issue, especially on college campuses, is American with Disabilities Act compliance. Students can be aware of buildings that aren’t ADA compliant and work with their university to make necessary changes.