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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts. Mr. President, I rise to discuss a terrible shortcoming in our housing discrimination laws and legislation which I have introduced and which I encourage the Presiding Officer to sign on to.

Last week, the Boston Herald reported that a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan had been forced to file suit in Massachusetts because a political activist landlord allegedly discouraged him from renting because of his military background, claiming the situation would be ``uncomfortable.''

This brave veteran brought his fight to the press and to the courts of Massachusetts, where State law makes it illegal to discriminate against veterans who are seeking housing. In Massachusetts, that is, in fact, the law. It is illegal. When I read this, I was angry, as I know the Presiding Officer would be angry if it happened in his State. That this could happen today is mind-boggling. So my staff and I started working to see what we could do to right this wrong and see if it was something that was systemic throughout the country. We started digging into this issue and found that when it comes to housing, it is apparently not illegal--let me repeat that, it is apparently not illegal--under Federal law to discriminate against a veteran or a member of our Armed Forces on the basis of their brave service to our Nation.

Back when I was a State senator and State representative in Massachusetts, at the statehouse, we took action, as I referenced, to ensure our veterans are protected, whether it is a welcome home bonus for first- and second-time soldiers who have served, antidiscrimination reemployment or educational benefits. I could go on and on.

Quite frankly, I think Massachusetts does it better than any other State in the country. So it came as a surprise to learn that fewer than one-half dozen States have similar protections. With tens of thousands of veterans returning home in the next few years and the size of our Armed Forces actually shrinking dramatically, now is clearly the time to fix the problem. I know the Presiding Officer as well does not want to hear more stories such as this one because I recognize how important that issue is for the Presiding Officer.

No one who puts on the uniform of our Nation and serves should be faced with discrimination. There is no one who should ever face that discrimination when they are trying to put a roof over their head and the heads of their family. The idea that anyone would deny a home to someone who has put their life on the line for our freedom is, quite frankly, un-American. It should be condemned by every Member of this body.

In order to understand today's problem, however, we must go back to 1968, when I was 9 years old, when one of my predecessors, Senator Edward Brooke, a great legislator from my home State of Massachusetts--a gentleman whom I still speak with--helped author the Fair Housing Act which was signed into law by then-President Johnson. That civil rights legislation broke new ground by banning housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. Another great Senator from Massachusetts, Senator Ted Kennedy, joined Senator Brooke in urging the bipartisan passage of that very important piece of legislation.

Then, in 1974, closer to the Presiding Officer, Senator Bill Brock of Tennessee amended the act to prevent housing discrimination on the basis of gender. Then, in 1988, Senator Kennedy extended the act's protections to those Americans with disabilities and families with children. Both of these expansions received broad bipartisan support and were actually signed into law.

As Senator Brooke said 44 years ago:

Fair housing is not a political issue, except as we make it one by the nature of our debate. It is purely and simply a matter of equal justice for all Americans.

Well said by Senator Brooke 44 years ago.

Fair housing has a bipartisan history and we have a chance to do it again. We can do it by protecting two additional groups from housing discrimination. My Ending Housing Discrimination Against Servicemembers and Veterans Act, S. 3283, is needed and it is needed right now. It amends the Fair Housing Act to protect veterans and servicemembers from housing discrimination.

By passing this bill right away, the Senate can say affirmatively and immediately that veterans and servicemembers deserve the same rights to housing as anyone else. This is a no-brainer. The Commander in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States has endorsed my bill, as referenced for people looking on, saying:

Senator Brown's work to protect servicemembers and veterans from housing discrimination is very positive. It is unconscionable that members of our military and veterans should fear not being able to rent or buy a home because of their status as a veteran.

This bill will correct the issue.

By passing this bill right away, we can, once again, say to those veterans and servicemembers that they have our pride and respect. We need the action right now. No veteran or servicemember should ever face the indignity of being denied housing solely on the basis of their service.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and Senator Kennedy's amendments in 1988 passed with overwhelming support. We should be able to do the same. I urge all my colleagues to cosponsor this important piece of legislation and work for its immediate and unanimous passage. It is time to fix this shortcoming in our Nation's housing laws and it is, quite frankly, the right thing to do.

I would like to also take this opportunity to wish the U.S. Army a happy 237th birthday. I was honored to go to the cake-cutting last night and honor those who have done so much for our great country.

I thank the Chair. I yield the floor.


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