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Our History

The Housing Equality Center got its start in 1956, five years before the passage of the Pennsylvania Fair Housing Act in 1961 and 12 years before the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act in 1968, thanks to a progressive and determined woman from Bryn Mawr named Margaret Hill Collins.

Troubled by racial segregation in the Philadelphia suburbs, Collins and a multiracial founding board consisting of religious leaders and housing industry professionals founded a real estate firm named Friends Suburban Housing, Inc., with the mission of selling homes without regard to color. This concept of selling homes on a non-discriminatory basis was a radical one at the time and she faced immense challenges in her endeavor to promote freedom in housing. She often showed houses in all-white neighborhoods to African American families at night, to avoid harassment from neighbors. Collins attempted to join the Main Line Board of Realtors three times in order to access a comprehensive list of properties for sale in the area but was rejected each time. Convinced that the rejection was based on the race of her clients, she sued the board for illegal restraint of trade and won her case in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Over the 20 years of its existence, Friends Suburban Housing sold 232 homes to Black buyers in 60 previously all white communities, beginning the racial integration of the Philadelphia suburbs. Collins continued as an advocate for fair housing until her death in 2006. 

Simultaneously and in coordination with Friends Suburban Housing, another core group of community advocates founded the Southeast Delaware County Area Committee of Friends Suburban Housing. The Committee actively lobbied for fair housing legislation, lobbying elected officials, speaking out to the community, publishing public service announcements in local newspapers, writing letters to the editor, and even appealing directly to President Lyndon B. Johnson. These individuals not only spoke out against discrimination, but they also urged residents of newly integrating suburbs to actively welcome African American neighbors into their communities and to embrace integration.

Beginning with the passage of the Pennsylvania Fair Housing Act in 1961 the Committee established one of the first testing programs in the nation to investigate allegations of housing discrimination. Members of the Committee served as mystery shoppers, posing as home seekers in order to determine if local housing providers were complying with the new law banning housing discrimination on the basis of race. The Committee used the results of its testing investigations to support the complaints of bona fide home seekers in discrimination cases. Nearly six decades later, fair housing testing in response to complaint allegations continues to be one of the core services offered by the Housing Equality Center.

Today, after numerous name changes and several expansions in service area, the Housing Equality Center continues to provide no-cost investigation services and enforcement support to individuals and families that have experienced housing discrimination. While combatting racial discrimination has been an ongoing and important focus since 1956, today the Housing Equality Center responds to all types of discrimination outlawed by federal, state, and local laws, including discrimination against people with disabilities, families with children, senior citizens, refugees, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Learn more about the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania