Last week, our country lost one of its strongest allies for affordable housing, Edward Brooke. The first African-American to be popularly elected to the U.S. Senate, Brooke was a leading advocate against discrimination in housing. Along with Senator Walter Mondale, Brooke co-authored the Fair Housing Act, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
The Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and sex national origin, familial status or disability by housing providers, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies. It came at a time when race-based housing patterns were prevalent across the country, excluding African-Americans and other minorities from certain housing opportunities.
In 1969, the senator’s name was attributed to the “Brooke Amendment,” which limited out-of-pocket rent expenditure by a tenant in federal publicly assisted housing programs to 25 percent of his or her income. The principle of limiting the housing ‘burden’ of very low-income renters survives in statute and continues to be regarded as a key principle in affordable housing policy today.
Brooke served two terms in the Senate, where he was a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. After leaving office, he chaired the Board of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and continued to lend his voice to the efforts of providing affordable housing opportunities for all.
Throughout his career, Brooke fought for civil rights and economic fairness. He declared housing was not an African-American problem, but “a social and economic problem…an American problem.” Nearly fifty years after the Fair Housing Act, his words still ring true.