Founded in 1956, the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia (FHCSP) is the oldest fair housing council in the nation. A Qualified Fair Housing Enforcement Organization (QFHO) as designated by HUD, FHCSP has earned a solid reputation and recognition for its efforts to combat discrimination and assure equal access to housing in a suburban region of over 2 million residents. The organization is dedicated to the idea that all people have the right to live where they can afford to live.
In 1956, before the days of fair housing legislation, a handful of residents of eastern Delaware County, Pennsylvania banded together to support the efforts of a unique real estate firm, Friends Suburban Housing that accepted only those listings which could be shown on a non-discriminatory basis to all financially eligible home seekers. This began what is today the oldest fair housing organization in the United States.
Early on, this group adopted the name "Committee for Democracy in Housing of Lansdowne & Vicinity." Its original purpose was to provide non-financial encouragement and support to African Americans seeking to buy homes in the area, and to sellers who became victims of racial violence because of their commitment to open housing. "Friendly Neighbor" ads, signed by area homeowners, were published in the local press. Often members stayed in the homes of families who were threatened and terrorized when they moved into all-white neighborhoods. Pennsylvania's governor and state police were pressured into providing protection for two such families.
Over time, the organization's service area expanded and its name was changed accordingly. In the 1960s, having helped to achieve passage of state and federal fair housing legislation, the FHCSP began monitoring real estate agencies' performance under the new laws. "Testing" for compliance became the organization's major program. As a result of discrimination charges brought by the organization against a local real estate firm, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission suspended the owner's license - the first time the Commission had taken such action. In the 1970s, after conducting an extensive audit, the Fair Housing Center of Southeast Pennsylvania, assisted by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., filed suit in federal court against five Delaware County Realtors alleging racial steering and other illegal practices aimed at maintaining the county's segregated racial pattern. This resulted in five consent decrees that made the organization responsible for monitoring those broker's records and practices for five years.
FHCSP was able to hire its first staff person in 1983. A few years later the organization co-sponsored the National Neighbors annual conference whose theme was "Neighborhood Diversity - Rekindling the Movement." Over 300 people from 27 states attended this four-day event at Drexel University.
State and federal fair housing laws gradually have been strengthened and their coverage broadened. While racial discrimination was the organization's original concern, today's efforts extend to combating discrimination against persons with disabilities, families with children and other protected classes.
In the mid 1990's, the organization brought lawsuits against almost every newspaper and real estate publication in the Delaware Valley for discriminatory advertising. As result of this extensive legal action, discriminatory advertising in the region was eliminated.
Until 1992 FHCSP's enforcement program involved only rental and sales market investigations. Since the mid 1990s, FHCSP has implemented methodical investigations of rental, sales, accessibility, lending and insurance practices.
Today, a dedicated Board of Directors, and professional staff work together to carry out an ambitious program of monitoring and community education, with an ongoing commitment to eliminate housing discrimination and achieve freedom of residence for all.
In 2000, FHCSP was awarded a national "Simply the Best Award" from HUD for "Maximizing the Effective Use of Fair Housing Education and Outreach". At the Fair Housing Initiatives Regional Training Conference held in August of 2001, HUD commended FHCSP for having the best fair housing testing program in the Mid-Atlantic region.
FHCSP was one of only 14 agencies in the nation selected to receive HUD's Fair Housing "Best Practices" award for innovative programs in 2002, presented by The Equal Rights Center on behalf of HUD. FHCSP was the only Mid-Atlantic agency to receive this award in this field.
FHCSP has received contracts from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Justice, National Fair Housing Alliance, Chester County, City of Chester and Lower Merion Township for enforcement and testing. In addition, the agency has received Community Development Block Grants funding from Delaware County, Bucks County, Chester County, and Lower Merion Township, as well as funding from The Philadelphia Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Liberty Mutual Group Fund, The Connelly Foundation, Pennsylvania Abolition Society, Women's Way, Community Support Corporation and the Union Benevolent Association. This funding has enabled the organization to develop far more effective enforcement and education projects and service a much wider geographic area. FHCSP was also awarded contracts to conduct Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice for Delaware County and Chester County.
Furthermore, since 1999, FHCSP has published and mailed the Delaware County Fair Housing News; increased funding in 2004 allowed for the expansion of this bi-annual newsletter to the Greater Philadelphia area as the Delaware Valley Fair Housing News, which is distributed to over 4,000 industry professionals, advocates and public officials.
In 2004, FHCSP was also instrumental in bringing Freddie Mac's national anti-predatory lending consumer awareness campaign to the four-county area through the new "Don't Borrow Trouble Suburban Philadelphia" initiative. This effort is a coalition of over 30 public and nonprofit entities which have combined expertise to educate consumers and address predatory lending issues on a regional scale. In this campaign, FHCSP is leading the effort to create an index of factors common to neighborhoods targeted for predatory lending, map census tracts to identify problem areas, and coordinate further investigation and enforcement of fair housing discrimination complaints referred to FHCSP by coalition partners.
In 2004, FHCSP was awarded a three-year, $1,050,000 Fair Housing Organizations Initiatives contract from HUD to work with Community Legal Aid Society, Inc., (CLASI) the oldest and largest legal services provider in the state of Delaware. Under this grant, FHCSP is providing training and technical assistance to build CLASI's organizational capacity to provide fair housing enforcement services to under served rural, disabled, homeless, Hispanic and non-English speaking populations throughout the state of Delaware. FHCSP was one of only two FHOI recipients in the United States for 2004, reflecting HUD's confidence in the work and commitment of its staff.
At the request of HUD's Mid-Atlantic office, FHCSP sponsored the 2004 Region III "Keepers of the Dream" conference during Fair Housing Month in April. The conference was attended by 147 individuals and featured an address by Carolyn Peoples, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. FHCSP's Executive Director received an award at the conference from Assistant Secretary Peoples in recognition of his many years of outstanding service and commitment to fair housing, and to HUD.
FHCSP continues to take a leadership role in fair housing enforcement and education efforts both within the Greater Philadelphia region, and at the national level. These efforts include both direct staff-driven activities, and enhanced organizational collaborations with other community groups.
During the last 50 years, FHCSP has changed its name five times and has expanded its service area to include Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. During its history, FHCSP has worked with many national organizations to eradicate housing discrimination including: National Neighbors, National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Fair Housing Alliance, HUD, Office of Thrift Supervision, National Federation of Housing Counselors, Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice and National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
Through FHCSP's efforts 46,576 housing units in the region have been made available to members of protected classes.