April is Fair Housing Month and this year marks the 44th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Although it’s been more than four decades since the legislation was enacted, Diane Johnson, New Jersey field office director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says blatant discrimination still happens in some communities. She sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the housing situation in the state.
Johnson said there are still issues in the Garden State, and throughout the country, with regard to housing that need to be resolved. She said blatant discrimination still happens in some communities.
“I think particularly in the state of New Jersey, we’re just in a diverse community. There’s different cultures,” Johnson said. “Different people are living in different communities and people have to understand and learn to live with the other people.”
Johnson explained that the state has gotten more diverse in the past 30 years, bringing a variety of cultures together in the same neighborhood. She said sometimes people don’t like the way a neighbor’s food might smell or have some other dispute, but that shouldn’t make a difference in housing choice. “The Department of Housing and Urban Development is the agency that is the enforcer and we make sure that people are given the rights to live wherever they choose,” she said.
The department is also involved in preventing scam artists from duping potential home buyers with fake loans. “We are trying to right now educate the public that there is a free service by our … HUD approved counseling agencies throughout the state that families can go to and get loan modifications, talk about crises that they may be going through,” Johnson said. “And it’s a free service. It’s not a service that they have to pay for. We want scammers to know that we don’t tolerate this in the state of New Jersey. We will not accept it.”
Johnson said resolutions to the problems are happening and banks are working with counseling agencies that can help families navigate the process. She also said banks are taking a tougher stand when looking at people’s credit for home loan approvals. “It’s not so much passing paper any more,” she said. “I think that we’ve all learned our lessons by this last crisis.”
According to Johnson, the department is working on getting banks to lend more money responsibly. She said the biggest challenge to accomplish that “is to make sure that we’re all following the rules and regulations that are out there.”