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Flushing library fetes Fair Housing Act’s 43 years

City Human Rights Commissioner Patricia Gatling commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act Monday afternoon at the Flushing branch of the Queens Library.

The legislation was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson April 11, 1968, just a week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Its passage ushered in a new era of equal treatment in housing, which is an essential part of American society today.

But that law rose out of New York City’s Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs Law, the first fair housing law in the nation, which went into effect a decade before the federal law, according to Gatling. The law, and subsequent ones bolstering and enhancing it, stand today as tenets of the toughest fair housing rights and protections in the nation, Gatling said.

“Here in New York City, we have a very strong law — what we need is for people to know how to use it so we have a lot of training classes here at the Flushing library and throughout the city ... to make people more aware not only of their rights, but also how to use the law here in New York,” she said.

Despite laws which protect those who seek housing in the five boroughs, Gatling said people are still discriminated against more often than even they may realize. Discrimination can be overt or subtle, but Gatling said anyone who believes they may have been a target of housing discrimination or other unfair housing practices should call 311 for free legal advice and to request possible enforcement action.

The city Human Rights Commission can take a variety of actions to address cases of discrimination or other illegal housing actions, including levying fines of up to $250,000, forcing a landlord to rent to someone, and imposing other penalties.

“We’ve had the law for a long time and a lot of times New Yorkers don’t even know they’re being discriminated against until something pricks them, like they have the money but they don’t get an apartment and they don’t know why,” she said. “There are a lot of options, so you shouldn’t just walk away from an apartment and wonder why you didn’t get it.”

The law continues to be strengthened to ensure fair practices for all city residents. In 2008, an amendment to the city fair housing law was passed, which protects Section 8 and other government assistance recipients from discrimination in housing.

The event came in conjunction with National Fair Housing Month.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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