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Imagine trying to purchase a home and having someone refuse you the right because of your race or ethnicity. What about being denied an apartment because you have children? Hard to imagine in this day and age? Think again.

Unfortunately, housing discrimination happens on a daily basis in our society. The federal Fair Housing Act was passed on April 11, 1968, one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nevertheless, fair housing groups, such as Toledo's Fair Housing Center, receive hundreds of complaints of housing discrimination every year-some 35 years after the law's passage.

The Fair Housing Act had been languishing in Congress for some time, and in response to Dr. King's assassination, Congress decided to pass the Act to end segregation of America's neighborhoods.

There were five original protected classes under the Act: race, color, sex, religion and national origin. In 1988, persons with disabilities and families with children were given protected status. Perhaps the Act's intention of ending racial segregation in America's neighborhoods was a bit ambitious given that most of America's communities remain largely segregated, with heavy minority concentration in the core city and largely Caucasian populations in the suburbs.

While some of this may be due to personal choice, there are also countless acts of housing discrimination that have contributed to patterns of segregation. Too often, consumers are notgiven a choice of housing options or are notaware of their rights under the Fair Housing Act.

Where can you look for help if you feel that your rights have been violated? The Fair Housing Center, a local non-profit serving Lucas and Wood Counties, was founded on the principles of community, tolerance, and justice.

It was a commitment to these principles that ignited the Women of the Old West End, the League of Women Voters and several other concerned citizens and community groups to establish an organization that would combat discriminatory housing practices. In 1975, the Center took its first steps toward fulfilling a mission of eliminating housing discrimination.

Over the past 28 years, the Center has carried out its founding principles through the investigation of over 8,000 complaints. Through the litigation of complaints, resulting in over $24 million in damages for victims and community investments, the Center has demonstrated a talent for setting national precedents in the enforcement of fair housing laws, while expanding housing opportunities for millions of Americans. Its investigative services are free and confidential.

In addition to complaint investigations and providing assistance to victims of discrimination, the Center also conducts education for consumers and housing industry professionals, provides housing counseling services, advocates for the rights of consumers, and facilitates neighborhood tours designed to introduce housing professionals to revitalization efforts taking place in core city neighborhoods. The Center's staff is one of the best in the country and has been recognized at the local, state, and national levels. Funding for the Center's activities comes from a variety of sources, including government and foundation grants, consulting contracts, investment income, special events, and public support.

For many years, the Center's budget relied heavily on government grants. As those grants began to decrease in size, the Center realized it was important to diversify its funding base and to develop new resources. One such effort is the Friends of Fair Housing program.

Started in 1999, the Friends program has raised over $30,000 for the Center's efforts on behalf of victims of housing discrimination. The membership is comprised of civil rights advocates, housing professionals, neighborhood organizations, apartment complexes, landlords, homeowners, corporations, staff and Board members, and past clients. In exchange for a donation, participants receive the Center's quarterly newsletters, keeping them up to speed on housing-related developments at the local, state and national levels.

To learn more about the Center's programs and services or to become a Friend of Fair Housing, please visit the Center's web site at: or call (419) 243-6163.

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