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Cincinnati Fair Housing Month Proclamations

Hamilton County event recognizes April as Fair Housing Month. What they weren’t expecting was a bit of a civics lesson.

By Anthony SanFilippo
City of Cincinnati and the Ohio River

The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners were presenting a proclamation recognizing April as Fair Housing Month. What they weren’t expecting was a bit of a civics lesson.

Michelle Billings, president-elect of the Cincinnati Area Board of REALTORS® (CABR), was joined by CABR President Phil Morrical, III and other members of the CABR leadership team to receive the proclamation – as they would do a second time two weeks later when the Cincinnati City Council also issued a similar proclamation.

But Billings decided to share an anecdote with the County Commissioners, that likely still came as a surprise.

A Reminder of Former Housing Policies

“A lot of people feel fair housing is non-existent today,” Billings said. “But the reality is you are sitting at closing with an owner who has never sold their property before and there on the deed it says, ‘No negroes allowed.’ You can’t sell, rent or transfer the property to African-American families.”

Billings said this has happened a few times in her 16 years as a REALTOR® in Ohio, and although the deeds are updated and the transactions can go through for African-Americans, the reminder of a different era of close-mindedness still exists in the 21st Century.

“It really brings you back to reality,” she said. “This is not that long ago and it’s quite amazing that this is still listed on the deed.”

Billings said the county has been trying to clean all of those old deeds up to remove such antiquated and prejudiced language, but that because there are so many deeds in the county offices a few are likely to be missed.

“I’m glad that it happened though because it’s so easy to take fair housing for granted,” Billings said.

It’s because of moments like these that these proclamations remain important to communities and aren’t just photo opportunities for local politicians and REALTORS®. This marked the second consecutive year that both the County and City recognized Fair Housing Month.

“We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with both the city and the county,” said CABR Government Affairs Director Mark Quarry. “Fair housing is always something that is discussed among REALTORS®, but not so much in the media as we would like it to be. That’s why it’s great to have events like these and to have the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) bring a lot more attention to it. It’s important to keep the conversation going and to continue to raise the overall awareness.”

Building that awareness is what the NAR commemoration is all about this year. It’s not just about acceptance, but also about how fair housing can improve the quality of life for everyone in a community.

“Housing affects everything directly related to a person,” Billings said. “It affects education for a child. Careers. Socio-economics.

“Housing affects everything directly related to a person,” Billings said. “It affects education for a child. Careers. Socio-economics.

“Studies show that if you take a family that owns a home and one that does not, the child that grows up in the more stable home is going to be more successful than the one that does not because of that stability. When you have more people owning homes and more people with access to own homes, they can access the educational system.”

And despite 50 years of fair housing, disparities still exist related to housing and educational opportunities. It’s why Billings moved her own family out of the city and into a suburban area. She wanted the opportunity of a better education for her children.

“Had I not done that, there was a good chance that my kids would have ended up in a less desirable scenario,” Billings said. “When you live in places with less homeownership and more rentals, there’s not enough buy-in to the community. When there isn’t a buy in, the parents aren’t as involved in the schools and the schooling. Whereas, in areas with higher rates of home ownership, then the schools tend to be a lot stronger because of school involvement and the community buy-in.”

Fair housing advocates across the country are working to increase access to quality education by creating avenues for families to move to areas of higher opportunity. Other important efforts involve initiatives and investments from the public and private sectors to turn underserved communities into vibrant neighborhoods with strong schools.

Promoting Fair Housing

Receiving proclamations and sharing anecdotes aren’t the only steps being taken by CABR to promote fair housing.

CABR has partnered with other Cincinnati-area organizations to promote civil rights – and especially fair housing – and will do so throughout the year.

In May, they were a sponsoring benefactor of the Cincinnatus Association’s annual Donald and Marian Spencer Spirit of America Awards. CABR has sponsored the event in each of the four years of its existence.

The event presented three awards – one to a non-profit providing job training, one to a non-profit support service, and one to a non-profit organization that exhibits conspicuous and enduring contributions to creating greater inclusion and promoting diversity in the community.

The late Donald Spencer was the first African-American on the Cincinnati Park Board, the first African-American broker on the CABR and the first African-American trustee at Ohio University.

Marian was an activist who started her activism in 1952 when her sons heard a radio ad inviting children to Coney Island to meet a local TV personality.

She was later told by a Coney Island representative that the invitation did not extend to “negro children.” She was banished from the front gate by an armed guard on July 4, 1952.

Spencer filed suit and subsequently won the case, which desegregated Coney Island.

Afterwards she became the first African-American president of the Woman’s City Club and the first African-American Councilwoman in Cincinnati.

At the awards dinner, CABR took out a full-page ad commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act with a headline that reads, “There is no America without diversity. There is no community without unity. There is no justice without equality.”

“We should really be doing things like this all year as opposed to just every April,” Quarry said. “Beyond this event, we have different continuing education classes that go on all year long that have a fair housing slant, but we should be doing something all year and are working to come up with other ideas.”


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