The Horrifying History of Sexist Housing Policies You Might Not Know About
Did you know that it used to be legal for landlords to charge women higher rent than men?
We wish we were joking.
That’s right. On this day in 1974, Congress finally amended the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to add sex as a protected class, a whole six years after Congress originally passed the law.
And even worse, this rental discrimination is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexist housing policies that consume our nation’s history:
- You may have heard of “Jim Crow,” but have you heard of “Jane Crow”?
This term was coined by Pauli Murray in 1947 to bring light to the intersections of racism and sexism that Black women experience, such as sexual harassment, wage gaps, and patriarchy at home. Sadly, this intersecting discrimination has continued long after 1947. One area where sexism and racism ran amuck was the housing industry. For example, after the Civil Rights Era, the private real estate market came into more power and responsibility than ever. This shift created a large federal disinvestment in public housing and affordable housing programs and increased privatization of the economy, including in the housing sector. In this era, wealthy investors were able to profit off the financial instability of Black and brown homeowners and renters.
- Did you know that before 1974, mortgage lenders could subject women to explicit discrimination, such as requiring higher incomes than male applicants, to obtain a mortgage?
Women were largely blocked from credit lines, but if they did obtain one, they had to walk through several disgustingly sexist barriers, including requiring a husband’s approval and being asked questions about birth control practices. Yes, apparently birth control usage was an important factor in taking out a loan? In October 1974, Congress also passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) to prohibit discrimination based on sex or marital status when it comes to credit and obtaining a loan (and not just for mortgage lending—other loans like car loans, credit cards, etc.).
- Did you know that the 2008 housing crash and recession made women more susceptible to the public health and economic crises spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Prior to the Great Recession, between 1993 and 2005, homeownership rates and homeownership lending drastically expanded among women of color, people of color, and low- paid borrowers. But the lack of regulations in the lending sphere enabled banks and other financial institutions to prey on single women, particularly women of color. For example, lenders often targeted older women homeowners, especially older women of color, for risky lending practices like subprime lending and reverse redlining, even when these women would have qualified for safer prime loans. Clearly, this was not due to their creditworthiness—it was due to racism and sexism that are so deeply engrained, even today.
- And after the Great Recession, these women were not supported by the government.
The bailouts instead focused on banking institutions, leaving people who had their houses foreclosed upon or were evicted from their rentals in the dark. This further pushed women of color down the housing insecurity ladder and depleted their debt—and for some, increased it. These devastating repercussions impacted women of color for the decade to come and then they were smacked in the face all over again by the COVID-19 pandemic, in which women of color were more likely to lose employment income and be behind on rent and mortgage payments.
While things have assuredly improved over the last few decades, we still have a long way to go to recover from centuries of racist and sexist housing policies.
I am committed to working towards a world in which Black women are paid $1 for every $1 that a white man receives.
I am committed to ensuring that every woman, LGBTQI+ individual, and family has a safe, accessible, and affordable place to live.
I am committed to make certain that every woman can freely use her homeownership capabilities to grow her wealth and comfortably pass it on to future generations.
But we advocates can’t do it alone—we need help from the public in stopping the systemic sexism that occurs in our everyday lives.
To learn more about sexism in housing, please visit https://nwlc.org/issue/housing/ and follow NWLC to get alerts for future direct-action opportunities.