Through advocacy, enforcement, education, and outreach, the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana (FHCCI) fights for equal housing opportunities by eliminating housing discrimination. But before the FHCCI opened its doors in 2012, victims of discriminatory housing practices were on their own. “People always had the right to locate an attorney and pursue options in court or to file what we call administrative complaints with local or state government agencies,” says FHCCI Executive Director Amy Nelson. “[But they may not] have had an advocate working with them either to locate evidence or to be with them throughout that process.” Even now, the FHCCI is the only fair housing organization of its kind in the state of Indiana.
Amy describes their Advocacy Program as the backbone of their work. “We assist individuals who believe they may have been a victim of housing discrimination to determine if there is in fact evidence of a violation of law or not,” she says. “If we find evidence of an unlawful practice, we then become an advocate for that victim and assist them in getting justice.”
But the FHCCI goes beyond assisting specific individuals and families; they also fight against systemic injustice. “We don’t just wait for the discrimination to come to us—we go out looking for it,” says Amy. Through this process, secret shoppers—or testers—conduct investigations by going to various leasing offices and reporting back on how they are treated.
“For instance, an African American tester arrives at an apartment complex and they’re told, ‘I’m so sorry, I just rented the last unit.’ That person has no way of knowing if that’s true or not,” says Amy. “But if we send in a white tester shortly thereafter who is told about three available units—that establishes race may have played a role in how those individuals were treated.”
Additionally, the FHCCI does work on public policy. Right now, they are working to increase tenant-based protections and protections for groups that are commonly discriminated against, such as those who pay their rent through a voucher or who may be denied housing because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or age. “We would like to see those types of groups added to the federal law as well as to the state law,” Amy says.
Because ignorance can play a role in unintentional discrimination, the FHCCI also educates the community on fair housing issues through their Education Program. The barrier, of course, is that the very people who need to be educated often will not avail themselves of training opportunities. And resulting issues can sometimes only be addressed through enforcement actions. “Through the cases that we have filed, we have certainly changed discriminatory practices,” Amy says. “But the reality is that there’s still a lot of work yet to do.”
To learn more about the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana or to educate yourself on fair housing issues, please visit their website. To learn more about their upcoming 2019 Fair Housing Conference on April 3, please visit their events page.