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MDCR: Civil Rights Summit to Guide Policy Proposals in Drive to Eliminate Housing Discrimination in Michigan

Governor Whitmer Calls for Vigilance in Fight for Fair Housing, Importance of Homeownership in Building Generational Wealth

Detroit-- On Wednesday, June 12, civil rights, fair housing, real estate, and banking policy experts and advocates gathered in Detroit to examine the root causes of, and potential remedies for, housing discrimination. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights hosted the Summit, with the goal of developing specific policy proposals that could help eliminate housing discrimination in our time.

“Let me be clear: no single day of focus on a problem as complex and embedded in our culture as housing discrimination will cure this societal ill,” said John E. Johnson, Jr., Executive Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. “But let it never be said that people of knowledge, determination and heart cannot come together to make change. We intend for this gathering of like minds to light the spark that leads to real and meaningful advances in the fight to eliminate housing discrimination.”

The Summit follows months of public hearings held by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to take testimony from people with lived experience of housing discrimination. More than ten hours of testimony helped frame the discussion of possible solutions at the Summit.

Gloria Lara, Chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, offered a welcome address at the start of the Summit.

“For as long as it has been in existence, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission has proclaimed the vital importance of fair housing,” said Chair Lara. “While no one can deny that we have made progress toward building a more equitable society, we still fall far short of achieving it.”

She encouraged attendees to engage with Summit panelists and speakers.

“While you’ll spend time hearing from experts and experienced advocates, we wouldn’t need to hold a Summit if we only wanted to hear from them. We have built in space and time for your input – your questions, your experiences, your ideas. I encourage you to take advantage of those opportunities to share your point of view, to ask the probing question, to offer counterpoint when you think it is valid and should be part of the discussion. You are the reason we’re here.”

Several Summit speakers acknowledged that while blatant discriminatory actions and speech have diminished, more subtle but equally damaging discrimination is still part of the housing landscape in Michigan.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer addressed housing discrimination historically, while raising the importance of fighting its modern-day manifestations and their impact.

“For most of our nation’s history, explicit, open housing discrimination was perfectly legal,” said Governor Whitmer. “Families of color were redlined out of communities and systematically denied loans, unable to buy their piece of the American dream. We heard testimony about more subtle, modern housing discrimination over the last few months during fair housing hearings across Michigan. We’ve made a lot of progress. But we still see the long shadow of housing discrimination. This kind of discrimination is not only morally repugnant, it is illegal. We must remain vigilant and fight it everywhere it rears its ugly head.”

Lisa Rice, President of the National Fair Housing Alliance, delivered the opening keynote on the impact of artificial intelligence on housing discrimination.

“Technology is driving millions of acts of discrimination – the problem is we just can’t see it,” said Rice.

She outlined recent high-profile cases of Dr. Raven Baxter and actor Wendell Pierce who both faced discrimination in the attempt to buy and rent a home.

“No one knew what to do, where to go for help,” said Rice.  “If the public doesn’t know what to do when they face blatant forms of discrimination, how informed do you think the general public is about algorithmic bias?”

The afternoon keynote speaker -- Colette Massengale, Senior Policy Representative at the National Association of Realtors -- spoke to the role the real estate industry, and realtors specifically, can play in helping reform and educate on the legal landscape of fair housing. She said realtors are the “boots on the ground” and trusted resources in educating both their clients and communities on housing laws and discrimination.

At the close of the Summit, MDCR Executive Director Johnson repeated his commitment to coming out of this months-long process and Summit with specific policy changes designed to drive progress on eliminating housing discrimination. He indicated that MDCR will circulate a summary of the Summit and create a task force to develop and fine tune policy proposals to address specific ways in which people are discriminated against in the effort to buy, sell, rent or finance a home in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is charged with investigating and resolving discrimination complaints and works to prevent discrimination through educational programs that promote voluntary compliance with civil rights laws. The Department also provides information and services to businesses on diversity initiatives and equal employment law. For more information on the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, go to

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to safeguard constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The Commission is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, genetic information, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights serves as the operational arm of the Commission.
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