Despite the many positive moves toward equality in the 40 years since the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968, there are still tremendous obstacles facing minorities in buying and maintaining homes.

That fact has led Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to join several national political leaders to launch a bipartisan commission to study discriminatory housing practices nationwide.

Madigan on Tuesday joined former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former Clinton cabinet secretary Henry Cisneros to launch the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The press conference and public hearing took place downtown at Access Living, 115 W. Chicago Ave.

Both Kemp and Cisneros previously served as secretaries for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and are co-chairs of the commission.

Tuesday’s hearing was the first of five daylong sessions scheduled to be held this year in five cities. During these hearings, commission members will hear testimony from panelists who serve as authorities in housing. They will testify regarding examples of segregation, discrimination and inequalities in real estate and housing.

“It is fitting that Chicago would be the city to launch this commission because it was indeed ground zero for the fair housing movement 40 years ago,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. “The purpose of this commission was in part inspired by the current state of the housing market and those unscrupulous lenders who steered so many people of color toward sub-prime loans-even those with good standing credit. This is the next phase in our attempt to break down the unfair practices in the housing market.”

Madigan added, “Currently, there are 1 million homes in foreclosure across the country and 3 million homeowners are at least one payment late in their mortgages. A disproportionate number of these foreclosures still affect African-Americans and Latinos due to sub-prime loans.

“Three of every five such loans were offered to African-Americans and two of five were offered to Latinos even if their credit was good,” Madigan said.

Based on the information gathered by the attorney general’s office, Madigan said that a minority home buyer making an annual salary of $100,000 was still more likely to receive an at-risk loan than a white home buyer making $30,000.

Speaker John Logan, who is currently a sociology professor at Brown University, addressed the lack of social mobility for blacks and Latinos since the Fair Housing Act passed. Using a map projected on a screen, Logan presented a map showing New York State’s black community in the last 80 years.

According to his findings, the black community, while growing in population, remained largely centered in a few select areas and showed no sign of movement toward areas where whites traditionally live. Logan’s findings were the same in other metropolitan cities, such as Chicago communities like Lincoln Park, where their largely Caucasian demographics have seen only a small ethnic shift.

“We have found that blacks and Latinos still live in areas with others that share their ethnicity,” Logan said. “I refer to these areas as the ‘Ghetto Belt,’-they are communities that seem frozen in time since the early 1900s.”

He explained that these communities are more likely to have lower-valued properties and greater difficulty in obtaining home owners insurance.

After the presentation, panelist Lisa Rice of the National Fair Housing Alliance spoke of her group’s efforts. Since it’s founding in 1988, the alliance has monitored injustices in the housing market. Rice outlined some of their findings.

“We’ve done studies that have supported the idea of a serious racial divide in housing,” she said, pointing to one conducted in Michigan where they sent a black and white man with the same interests, income, background and credit ratings into a Century 21 to look at homes.

Each was treated differently by the realtor.

“The white gentleman was pursued more aggressively, [and] pointed in a direction of a predominantly white area, even when he expressed interest in Detroit. He was told the school system was better in the other areas and was offered coaching on owning a home,” Rice said. “Meanwhile, the African-American man was steered toward Detroit because, ‘The houses are more affordable.’ [He] was not pursued aggressively and was given no coaching.

“These are the types of injustices that are at the heart of what we are attempting to fix,” Rice said.

Taking on discrimination

The National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is a collaboration with such fair housing organizations such as the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Association of Realtors, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Future hearings take place in Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta, and will culminate in a report in Washington, D.C. in December.

Other members of the commission include: Howard University School of Law Professor Okianer Christian Dark; and Myron Orfield, executive director of the Institute on Race & Poverty; I. King Jordan, president emeritus of Galludet University in Washington D.C.