March celebrates 50th anniversary of fair housing

The participants of the march gather prior to starting the demonstration.

Devyn Leeson

City organizers, planners and activists gathered in Ames to march in awareness of the Fair Housing Act, which became law 50 years ago.

The Fair Housing Act, signed by president Lyndon B. Johnson, came at a time of heavy discrimination in housing practices targeted at minorities. The act prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, financing and renting of houses based on religion, race, national origin and sex.

Johnson signed the legislation on April 11, 1968 following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. seven days prior. The legislation was an extension of the discrimination protections given under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The act was later amended to add protections based on disability and familial status.

Some of the participants in the march also marched in recognition of other laws recently added to create fair and equal opportunities in housing.

Assistant City Manager Bob Kindred was at the rally and he outlined some of the protections the state has passed recently regarding safe housing.

“I have been with [Ames] for 37 years and the City Council did a revamp a while back that targeted below grade apartments that were not safe,” Kindred said. “Then the most recent changes by the Iowa General Assembly last year were put in place to make sure people aren’t being crammed into houses, apartments or neighborhoods.”

Kindred said he hopes the march can help bring awareness to issues regarding fair housing as it is something “many of us take for granted today.”

While the protections are there today, there can still be issues regarding housing discrimination. Organizers of the march made signs that supported this claim, saying things like “Will the apartment still be available when they hear my accent?”

Other signs were directed at informing onlookers and participants how to utilize the protections in place, including directions to report housing discrimination when it is seen.

Vanessa Baker-Latimer, housing coordinator and organizer of the march, said the main purpose of the march was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the act.

“We really want to come together as a community to celebrate fair housing as a law,” Baker-Latimer said. “It is important to those citizens who have been denied access for years because of their race, their creed, their religion, their sexual orientation and their gender, and it is important to the city of Ames and Story County as they have extra laws protecting these individuals.”

In addition to celebrating history, Baker-Latimer expressed the importance of supporting more fair and equal housing laws in the future.

“We will continue to advocate for all of those things because even at this time, even though we have made progress, there is more progress to be made.”

A large majority of participants in the march were directly related to housing in some way. Grace Smith, rental consultant, said she and the other consultants were there to raise awareness of something that is a part of their jobs every day.

Before the march began, Baker-Latimer spoke over a bullhorn, and, holding back tears, said she was overwhelmed with the support and number of people who had shown up to bring awareness to housing discrimination. She then rallied everyone to march from Brookside Park to City Hall.

Once participants in the march made it to City Hall, Mayor John Haila spoke about the importance of fair housing and announced April would be recognized as fair housing month.

This coincided with a similar announcement on the national level that April would be national fair housing month.

The march was organized and supported by the city of Ames, the Ames Human Relations Commission and other local sponsors.