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With the memory of Little Rock still smoldering, it is heartening to see local government take its own action toward eliminating racial discrimination. The passage of the New York City anti-bias act is an encouraging step in removing segregation, not only for New York, but for the country. By the bill passed last Thursday, no owner of a dwelling for more than two families may refuse to rent or sell housing accommodations to any person because of his "race, color, religion, origin, or ancestry."
Mayor Wagner last May set the enactment of this bill as a chief aim of his administration; and it was steered through the City Council by Majority Leader Joseph T. Sharkey, Councilman Earl Brown, and Minority Leader Stanley Isaacs. As originally conceived, the bill would have made discrimination in rentals punishable by a fine of $500. This stronger version, however, was weakened in committee; and as finally passed the law provides for no punitive measures and includes a more elaborate procedure for pressing complaints than was originally desired by the bill's sponsors.
This final version of the bill is far from perfect. The complex method for handling complaints against landlords may discourage plaintiffs from pressing charges. A family turned down by a landlord and without an apartment may not have the time to pursue their efforts up to a court decision and through long appeals. Since the lack of a provision for punishing offenders will encourage some owners to see how long they can evade the law, subsequent amendments to this bill should restore the punitive fine.
Yet like the national civil rights legislation passed this summer, the Housing Bill is a definite move forward and probably will be further strengthened. The old and specious shibboleth advanced by the Real Estate Board--that the bill violates "fundamental rights of the owners of private property"--has not served to cancel more basic claims of racial equality. The city has established, at least in principle, that its sizable minority groups will be protected in their efforts to improve their living conditions. Furthermore, any future breakdown of housing segregation will be doubly advantageous, since it will help break down the unofficial school segregation in the city.
Certainly the South has no monopoly on racial prejudice, and a Harlem makes almost as poor an impression as does a Little Rock. The significant step the nation's largest city has taken in breaking down racial barriers should prove a healthy example here and abroad.
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