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The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, in partnership with Prince George's County Department of Housing and Community Development, Office of Community Relations, Human Relations Commission the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Prince George's County Government hosted a Fair Housing Summit at Hillcrest Heights Community Center in Temple Hills, Md. Nov. 16.

After introductory remarks by Brien Boone, director of the Office of Fair Practices for DHCD, Raymond A. Skinner, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and Marvin W. Turner, director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development District of Columbia/National Capital Area Office, a panel of fair housing experts addressed what then President Lyndon Johnson intended to be "part of the American way of life," in the wake of the 1968 signing of the Fair Housing Act. After more than 40 years, the panelists agreed, there is still progress to be made in making housing access fair for all.

"I don't know that fair housing is yet the American way of life. Although we may debate how best to achieve fair housing, the idea of fair housing is not in dispute," Skinner said, "for families of all races and creeds, newly arrived families, senior citizens, and people with disabilities, in safe, opportunity-rich neighborhoods."

Panelist Robert J. Strupp, executive director of BNI, a landlord-tenant counseling service formerly known as Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc., indicated that the key to fairness in housing is freedom of choice.

"Fair housing is about opportunity to live where they choose to live and being able to afford to live where they want to live," Strupp said. That fairness may not be as easy to create as it seems on a chart of statistics. If different groups are unable to live together, but instead are separated into "pockets of affluence and pockets of poverty," the fairness of housing and other opportunities may be called into question, Strupp said.

Though many people think of fair housing as an issue related to racial discrimination, Paikin said that over the past five years, discrimination based on disability, "is the number one complaint received by HUD and all our partners. People who are disabled have the right to live the same way as the rest of us, wherever they can afford to live."

The costs and limited availability of handicap-accessible dwelling units can make finding those acceptable places to live challenging, even without the burden of discrimination.

After the panel discussion, Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III spoke on the efforts to improve six struggling neighborhoods through the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, promising, "We're going to stay in those neighborhoods until they change."

The summit concluded with break-out discussion sessions on fair housing rights and responsibilities, the environment, and a community report analysis of impediments to fair housing.