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This paper examines the effort to secure fair housing laws at the local, state and federal levels in the 1950s, focusing in particular on New York City and state. It will examine the arguments that advocates made regarding the role the law should play in preventing housing discrimination, and the relationship of these views to advocates' understanding of property rights in general. My paper will argue that fair housing advocates had particular conceptions about the importance of housing in American society that both supported and limited their success. By arguing that minorities only sought what others wanted - a single-family home in the suburbs - advocates structured the debate to secure the most support. At the same time, this frame of reference limited the fair housing effort to advocacy for middle-class blacks, and obscured questions of housing affordability that were equally important to many blacks. The paper will examine the class-based nature of the effort for fair housing, in the context of the rise of the urban renewal program and the decline in support for public housing. Together, these phenomenon contributed to increasing class and racial segregation in American cities.


Housing law and policy, social movements, civil rights, racial and class discrimination, residential segregation, real estate

Publication Title

Urban Law

Publication Citation

35 Urb. Law. 399 (2003)