Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the Observance of Fair Housing Month

April 10, 1984

Secretary Pierce and ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to join you today as our nation observes the 16th anniversary of the law that guarantees one of the most basic American rights -- the right to fair housing.

Just a generation ago, nearly 1 in 10 Americans were forced to live lives that were separate and unequal. Most black Americans were taught in segregated schools. Many could find only poor jobs and toiling for low wages. They were refused entry into hotels and restaurants. And across the country, when they wanted to buy a house or rent an apartment, they were too often told they weren't welcome.

That glaring injustice gave rise to a dramatic movement for civil rights. Men and women of integrity and courage organized boycotts and rallys and marches. And often they were beaten and imprisoned, but they remained devoted to their cause. ``Work with the faith,'' Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told his followers, ``that unearned suffering is redemptive.''

The struggle for equality of rights moved our nation to the very depths of its soul. Throughout the land, people began to treat each other not as blacks and whites, but as fellow Americans. In 1968 an historic civil rights bill was passed, and it is title VIII of that act that we honor here today.

The opening words of title VIII were simple, but profound. ``It is the policy of the United States to provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the United States.'' From Maine to Hawaii, title VIII made it unlawful to discriminate in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. No American could ever again be denied housing because of the color of his skin. The law was soon amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex as well. And it became crucial in protecting the rights not only of black Americans but of all minorities, including Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, single mothers, and others.

And today our country is more committed to fair housing than ever. State and local fair housing laws that are substantially equivalent to the Federal law have increased from 23 in 1979 to 82 today. At the national level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Secretary Pierce is aggressively investigating complaints of housing discrimination.

Perhaps most important, our administration has proposed legislation to give the fair housing law tougher enforcement. Among other changes in the present law, our legislation would impose civil penalties of up to $50,000 for a first housing discrimination offense and of up to a hundred thousand dollars for a second offense; allow individual as well as pattern or group complaints to be referred to the Attorney General; allow complaints to be filed up to 2 years after the alleged offense; and would extend the protection of the Fair Housing Act to the handicapped and disabled.

Despite the importance of these government efforts, fair housing can never become a permanent way of life without the involvement of thousands of contractors, realtors, building managers, and others who make up the housing industry. And that's where HUD's Public-Private Partnerships for Fair Housing programs comes in.

In partnerships in housing, local realtors, chambers of commerce, and other committed groups and citizens are conducting fair housing campaigns at their own expense. On behalf of all Americans, I want to give my heartfelt thanks to those Secretary Pierce has presented with awards and to everyone who has participated in the Public-Private Partnerships for Fair Housing program.

Celebrities for Fair Housing is another program that's going to have a powerful impact. When people like Phyllis Hyman, Arthur Ashe, Melba Moore, Harry Belafonte, and so many others talk about the importance of fair housing, the whole Nation listens. I know something about that, because I found out years ago in Hollywood that if you don't sing or dance, you wind up as an after-dinner speaker. [Laughter] To all these well-respected and well-loved celebrities who are going to give so freely of their time and talents to the cause of fair housing, I want to say a heartfelt ``thank you.''

Ever since the passage of the Fair Housing Act during this month in 1968, April has traditionally been Fair Housing Month. This April let us once again dedicate ourselves to the great work of assuring fair housing for all. And let us continue that work until fair housing becomes a permanent reality in our national life.

I think that's all I want to say. And thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.