Soon to be President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and currently the Executive Vice President of the organization, Ms. Rice oversees the resource development, public policy, communication and enforcement divisions of the agency. NFHA works with over 200-member organizations across the country to eliminate barriers in the housing markets and expand equal housing and lending opportunities. NFHA provides a range of programs to affirmatively further fair housing including community development, neighborhood stabilization, training, education, outreach, advocacy, consulting and enforcement initiatives. Ms. Rice also leads NFHA’s effort to spear-head the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.
Ms. Rice’s fair housing and fair lending work began at the local level. Prior to joining NFHA, she was the President and CEO of the Fair Housing Center of Toledo, Ohio and the Northwest Ohio Development Agency. Under her tenure, the Fair Housing Center brought precedent-setting fair housing and fair lending cases that resulted in the expansion of insurance, lending and affordable housing opportunities for millions of consumers. Ms. Rice also helped to create the state of Ohio’s only anti-predatory lending remediation program.
Ms. Rice has served on the state of Ohio’s Housing Trust Fund Advisory Board, State Farm Bank Consumer Advisory Council, and Federal Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council. She is a current member of the JPMorgan Chase Consumer Advisory Council, Mortgage Bankers Association’s Consumer Advisory Council, Freddie Mac Affordable Housing Advisory Council, Urban Institute’s Mortgage Servicing Collaborative, and America’s Homeowner Alliance Advisory Board.
1) This coming April marks the anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, an accord reached to help end discrimination in housing. The NFHA has a year-long plan to educate people on the importance of this Act via your #FHAct50 Campaign. Can you tell us about the campaign and what you have planned this year?
The Fair Housing Act was passed 50 years ago, seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to both eliminate housing discrimination and to promote integrated, healthy, inclusive communities. NFHA launched the #FHAct50 Campaign to both commemorate this historic milestone and to host events and activities throughout the year to help expand equal housing opportunities in the United States. We are hosting an Access to Credit Forum; convening a national conference on civil rights, housing, lending, insurance, and public service stakeholders; co-sponsoring a series of Regional Housing Forums; and kicking off an initiative called 50 Stories—a short film competition judged by award-winning producer Norman Lear—to highlight the stories of 50 people whose lives were changed by the Fair Housing Act.
At the top of the year, we released an incredibly important book—The Fight for Fair Housing: Causes, Consequences, and Future Implications of the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act—which features some of the nation’s leading voices on housing issues, including former Vice President Walter Mondale, Raphael Bostic, Greg Squires, Thomas Sugrue, and Wade Henderson. We kicked off the FHAct50 Campaign at an inaugural event featuring Senator Tim Kaine, Janet Murguía, Vanita Gupta, Frank Wu, Marc Morial, Gregory Squires, and others. During the launch event, we also released an updated short documentary, Seven Days. Produced for us by Nationwide, Seven Days recounts the historic events that unfolded in the seven days between the assassination of Dr. King and passage of the Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968. You can learn more about the activities NFHA and its member organizations are hosting throughout the country here.
2) The Fair Housing Act has been a landmark piece of legislation that has been in the mainstream for 50 years. Despite the unambiguous clarity of that legislation with the associated consequences of violating the law, redlining (the practice of denying or limiting financial services to certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic composition without regard to the residents’ qualifications or creditworthiness) in the housing sector continues. What are your thoughts on this?
The United States has a dual credit market that, throughout our nation’s history and present, creates systemic barriers that make it difficult for people of color to access credit in the financial mainstream. Contributing factors are that consumers of color disproportionately access credit from non-traditional credit providers and, as a result of centuries-long discriminatory practices perpetuated by the federal government and private market entities, have less wealth than their white counterparts. But it is not prohibitive structures and systemic barriers alone that contribute to the disparities we see in lending markets. There is ample evidence that consumers of color face intentional discrimination in the marketplace.
The National Fair Housing Alliance just released an important report analyzing eight matched-pair pre-approval auto lending tests that we recently conducted. During these tests, individuals submitted their applications for pre-approval for auto loans and consented to have their credit checked by the auto dealer/indirect lender. The report reveals very troubling differential treatment between white and non-white testers and suggests that discriminatory treatment is alive and well in our lending markets. This is one of the reasons we are collaborating with the Urban Institute, Citi Community Development, and other organizations to host an Access to Credit Forum, designed to develop and implement workable solutions to address barriers to credit access.
3) What are some key insights from NFHA’s annual “Fair Housing Trends Report”?
Every year, NFHA collects fair housing complaint data from private fair housing organizations, HUD, and DOJ. Collectively, this serves as a snapshot of fair housing complaints that are reported in the U.S. Last year, our Fair Housing Trends Report described over 28,000 documented complaints of housing discrimination—but we know that because housing discrimination often goes undetected and is severely underreported, the annual number of instances of housing discrimination actually reaches well into the millions. The report reveals an increase in overall complaints nearly every year, which is problematic. Last year, over half of the complaints were based on disability, and 20 percent were based on race.
Last year’s report also highlighted a particularly alarming fair housing issue—the increase in housing-related hate activity. Since the fall of 2016, there has been an uptick in hate crimes involving people who were harassed in their neighborhoods or at their apartments, university dormitories, or homes. This type of harassment and hate activity in residential areas is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
4) What are the major obstacles that we still need to overcome in order to break down segregation barriers in housing?
The first thing we should remember is that segregation has never been a natural occurrence. The residential segregation we see today is the result of over 150 years of federal housing policy and illegal housing market practices that created and perpetuated racially isolated communities and then denied those communities the services, amenities, and opportunities that support and contribute to a quality life and the chance to own a home. Because the causes of segregation are systemic, structural, and behavioral, the solutions must be as well. We must promote and support policies that result in the development of affordable and inclusive housing opportunities; educate consumers and stakeholders about fair housing issues; enforce fair housing laws; create investment in under-served areas, and dismantle systems that prevent us from ensuring that every neighborhood is a place of opportunity.
5) Whether it was at the Toledo Fair Housing Center or National Fair Housing Alliance, you have been fighting for equal housing opportunities for over 30 years. What is it about fair housing policy that compels you to work toward this specific goal?
The more I began to understand the importance of “place,” the more committed I became to ensuring that everyone has access to equal housing opportunities. Inequities in housing choice are the foundation of almost all other inequities in American society. Where we live matters. It affects every aspect of our lives and determines whether or not our families have access to nutritious and affordable food, high-performing schools, quality healthcare, a living wage job, banks and credit unions, reliable public transportation, and clean, healthy environments. Where we live impacts our ability to own a home, our chances of being incarcerated, how much wealth we will attain, a child’s likelihood of attending college, our income, and even how long we will live. Fair housing is all about expanding opportunities for people and ensuring that everyone has a fair shot. It is an important antidote for much of what ails us as a nation. Fair housing strengthens families, communities, businesses, and the economy. That is powerful! It is why I have devoted my life to making sure that everyone has the right to live in neighborhoods that promote their ability to thrive and be successful.