Fair Housing/Housing Discrimination

Housing discrimination and the concentration of minority populations in the Region’s central cities were identified as components of the Region’s housing problem. Chapter VI, “Housing Discrimination and Fair Housing Practices,” of the regional housing plan includes a description of the history of housing discrimination and racial distribution patterns and the resulting impacts, a summary of reported complaints of housing discrimination over the last decade, home mortgage and lending patterns by race and ethnic group, Federal requirements to affirmatively further fair housing, and legal actions related to fair housing.

Implementation of fair housing practices would help ensure that all households have an opportunity to reside near their existing or potential workplace, and near community facilities such as schools, health care centers, parks, and areas offering shopping and other services. Federal and State law make housing discrimination against any individual in a protected class illegal. Protected classes under Federal law include race, color, national origin/ancestry, disability/handicap, and familial status. Additional protected classes under the Wisconsin Open Housing Law include age, marital status, family status, lawful source of income, sexual orientation, and victims of domestic abuse or stalking. Unlawful housing practices include refusing to rent, sell, insure, or finance housing and printing, publishing, or displaying advertisements or notices that indicate a preference affecting a protected class.

Minority groups live in concentrated, and often separate, areas of the Region. Black residents are concentrated in the near north and northwest areas of the City of Milwaukee and in and around the downtown areas of the Cities of Kenosha and Racine. Hispanic residents are concentrated in the near-south side of the City of Milwaukee, in Milwaukee County communities south and west of the City of Milwaukee, and in and around the downtown areas of the Cities of Kenosha, Racine, Waukesha, Elkhorn, Lake Geneva, and Delavan. Chapter IV and Chapter VII of the housing plan document the concentrations of low-cost housing, lower-income populations, and minority populations in Southeastern Wisconsin.

While Federal and State fair housing laws have made discriminatory housing practices illegal for over 40 years, these formerly legal practices have likely contributed to the concentrations of low-cost housing and lower-income and minority populations in the Region’s central cities. Prior to enactment of fair housing laws at multiple levels of government in the late 1960’s, practices such as redlining were routinely practiced by lenders, which channeled home loans to predominately white areas. Underwriting guidelines for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) required that “properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes” through the 1930s, and FHA practices solidified dual housing markets for whites and blacks that persist today in cities across the country. Property deeds and subdivision covenants could and did restrict the race of residents, until such restrictions were ruled unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948. A HUD study conducted in 2000 found that racial “steering” of both white and minority home seekers to racially concentrated areas (that is, white home seekers shown homes in predominately white areas and minority home seekers shown homes in predominately minority areas) still exists, although to a lesser extent than in studies conducted in previous years.

Local zoning ordinances may preclude the development of housing affordable to lower-income households, including minorities, because of large minimum lot and/or home sizes. In communities that do not provide public sanitary sewer services, larger lot sizes are often necessary to ensure adequate space for on-site sewage treatment systems and adequate separation distances between private wells and sewage treatment systems. School district and local government officials in both rural and urban areas are concerned that residential and other development generate enough property tax revenue to support local schools and municipal budgets. In some cases, school district and municipal officials prefer larger and more expensive homes based on a perception that higher-cost housing has a more positive impact on school district and municipal revenues than lower-cost housing.

Other factors that have contributed to racial housing segregation include “white flight,” when white families move out of urban neighborhoods undergoing racial integration or from cities implementing school desegregation. NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) may also contribute to racial housing segregation. Neighboring property owners often attend public meetings and hearings to oppose multi-family housing, low-income tax credit housing, and other types of housing that they perceive will have a negative effect on surrounding property values. Although race is rarely cited by opponents of multi-family housing, low-income housing advocates have expressed concerns that many decisions to delay or deny multi-family housing developments are based on concerns that minorities will occupy such housing.

Effects of Segregation

The segregation of minorities and low-income people in central cities and other portions of the Region results in numerous adverse effects, with most of the burden falling on those who live in predominately minority areas. Areas that are predominately low-income and minority typically suffer from dilapidated housing; over-burdened schools with high drop-out rates and low academic achievement; limited commercial establishments, including grocery stores that provide fresh and healthy food; limited access to health care facilities; high crime rates; high unemployment; and welfare dependency. Low-performing schools exacerbate the problems associated with segregated areas, because low academic achievement limits opportunities for individuals to obtain advanced education and good-paying jobs.

Segregation also has negative impacts on the regional economy. Ensuring equal access to housing that is linked to high performing schools, sustainable employment, transportation infrastructure, and childcare is essential for securing an economically viable and sustainable region in Southeastern Wisconsin. Housing is a critical element that contributes to expanded social and economic opportunity for individuals and families. When it is affordable and linked to these other opportunities, it can serve as a conduit to improved life outcomes and an improved region. In addition to economic and social opportunities for minority residents, more dispersed affordable housing throughout the Region would increase opportunities for both minority and non-minority residents to interact with people of different races, ethnicities, and lifestyles and, ideally, increase understanding and tolerance among a more diverse population.

Fair Housing Laws

There are numerous Federal laws that protect persons against discrimination in housing and related transactions. The most widely known is the Fair Housing Act, the Federal non-discrimination law that applies to many types of housing and to residential real estate transactions. There is also a State housing law, the Wisconsin Open Housing law, and several Federal fair lending laws. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination, including actions that have a discriminatory effect, by recipients of Federal funding. A summary of the following Federal and State laws is provided in Appendix F:

Fair housing laws that include specific requirements for providing housing that is accessible to persons with disabilities are summarized in Chapter IX.

Obligation to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing

The Federal Fair Housing Act requires the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to “affirmatively further fair housing” (AFFH) and engage in “affirmative fair housing marketing.” The spirit of AFFH requirements is to identify and implement measures to reverse acts of housing discrimination, of which racial segregation is the primary effect. The AFFH requirement is proactive. It means more than an entity will refrain from discrimination, but will also identify and take action to reverse patterns of discrimination and segregation.

States, counties, and cities that receive funding under HUD Community Planning and Development (CPD) programs are required to certify to HUD that they will affirmatively further fair housing. CPD programs include the Community Development Block Grant program, the Home Investment Partnership (HOME) program, the Emergency Shelter Grant program, and the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program. The AFFH obligation extends to all housing and housing-related activities in the grantee’s jurisdictional area, including both privately- and publicly-funded housing. Public Housing Authorities that administer public housing and/or the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program must also affirmatively further fair housing. Impediments to fair housing and planned activities to remove impediments are identified by HUD grantees and public housing agencies in an “analysis of impediments” prepared by each agency. Appendix I of the housing plan includes a summary of the impediments to fair housing identified by counties and cities (referred to as “entitlement jurisdictions”) in the Region that receive HUD funding for Community Planning and Development programs.


Multi-family housing and smaller lot and home size requirements for single-family homes in suburban areas may accommodate new housing that would be more affordable to low-income and minority households. Taking the cost elements documented in Chapter V and the monthly housing budget of a moderate-income household into consideration, it was determined that sewered communities should consider providing areas for the development of single-family homes less than 1,200 square feet on 10,000 square foot or smaller lots in order to meet the needs of moderate income households. In order to provide housing for low-income households, a community should provide areas for the development of multi-family housing at a density of at least 10 dwelling units per acre, and 18 dwelling units or more per acre in highly urbanized communities. Due to State and Federal requirements, most new multi-family development also provides housing that is accessible to persons with disabilities.

The analyses presented in Chapter V show that new housing development, regardless of the density or size of the unit, is not likely to be affordable to those households with extremely and very low-incomes (below 30 percent and 50 percent of the Region’s median annual household income, respectively). In many instances the only way to provide additional housing for extremely and very low-income households is through developments receiving public subsidies or assistance from religious or nonprofit organizations.

On average black and Hispanic households earn significantly less per year than white households. Black/Non-Hispanic households in the four-county Milwaukee metro area earned 45 cents for every dollar earned by whites, and Hispanic households earned 61 cents for every dollar earned by whites, based on median household incomes reported in the 2005-2009 American Community Survey (ACS) conducted by the Census Bureau. Given the relatively higher unemployment rates and lower incomes of African Americans and Hispanics in the Milwaukee area, the need for more affordable housing for these populations is clear.

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Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission

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