Suburban Maryland Fair Housing, Inc. (SMFH) was a voluntary, non-profit organization that existed in Montgomery County, Maryland, from 1962-1990. This organization was founded and maintained by a volunteer group of Montgomery County residents committed to the principle of fair housing. The formation of SMFH coincided with the national movement to promote fair housing (also open housing) that was part of the national civil rights movement which sought to ban all forms of racial discrimination, including discrimination in the purchase or rental of housing. The organizational structure of SMFH took several years to fully develop, but eventually included four officers (president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer), a board of directors, committee leaders, and county agency observes. Notable officials of SMFH included: Rev. Dr. J. Wiley Prugh (first president of SMFH), Thomas J. Schwab, John S. DeBeers, Rev. Dr. Philip Wogaman, Peg McRory, Donald E. Jefferson, Rita Morgan, Jackie Simon, B.K. Smerko, and Walter Petzold.
During the first years of its existence SMFH concentrated on achieving fair housing
by actively promoting equal housing opportunity in every Montgomery County neighborhood. As part of its initial effort to promote fair housing, SMFH organized a speakers’ bureau, a community relations committee, a research committee, and the Housing Information Service (HIS). The newly formed Housing Information Service created and maintained a roster of homes and apartments whose white owners were willing to sell or rent to African-Americans; HIS also maintained a list of African Americans who desired to buy or rent in Montgomery County. During this period SMFH launched an ambitious pledge campaign to get county residents to endorse the policy of open housing. This campaign involved the coordinated efforts of 700 SMFH volunteers who successfully obtained 15,000 signatures on the Fair Housing Pledge. By 1964, the membership of Suburban Maryland Fair Housing, Inc. had reached 1,097, and the organization moved out of the homes of its members to offices in the Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Rockville, Maryland.
Suburban Maryland Fair Housing, Inc. continued to promote fair housing by publishing a monthly newsletter that was widely distributed as well as by means of regularly held community workshops on such topics as fair housing enforcement and new housing legislation. SMFH also provided housing information and referral services to assist minority group families seeking housing in Montgomery County. SMFH soon realized that promoting the idea of fair housing through voluntary efforts was not enough to achieve the goal of non-discrimination, and the organization began to give greater emphasis to promoting fair housing legislation. To this end, SMFH officials provided fair housing testimony at the county, state, and federal levels on a regular basis. In the mid-1960s, SMFH organized forces favorable to fair housing to appear before the Montgomery County Council to promote passage of a fair housing law. The first fair housing ordinance supported by SMFH passed in July 1967, but was invalidated by the courts later that year. A second and stronger bill passed on May 30, 1968, just one month after the U.S. Congress, at the urging of President Lyndon Johnson, passed the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
In the wake of passage of new fair housing legislation, SMFH entered a new phase of work: helping to see that fair housing laws were enforced in Montgomery County. SMFH began this new effort by initiating a testing program in which African-American and white volunteers visited houses for sale to determine if the same information was provided to each tester. SMFH continued to employ its testing services to verify and/or produce evidence of housing discrimination in an increasing variety of forms throughout the 1970s and 1980s. During this period the emphasis of the testing program shifted from realtor sales of existing homes to new home development sales and apartment rental situations.
Aware that law and legislation were not enough to achieve the goal of fair and decent housing to those in need, Suburban Maryland Fair Housing, Inc. began to develop a long-range strategy to increase the supply of low and moderate income housing. SMFH proposed a Montgomery County legislation that would require all future building developments of 50 units or more to include 15% for Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs). This bill was introduced in March of 1972 and enacted in October of 1973. An Executive veto of the landmark legislation was overridden by the Montgomery County Council in November 1973, and the Moderately Priced Housing (MPH) Law became effective in January 1974.
Throughout the rest of its existence SMFH engaged in fair housing advocacy, testing, education, research, and compliance work regarding housing discrimination. In later years, SMFH expanded its fair housing efforts to include the prevention of housing discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, national origin, sex, marital status, and physical or mental disability. Pursuant to its manifold mission, SMFH also assisted Montgomery County complainants in filing formal complaints with appropriate county, state, and federal agencies. SMFH also initiated a program of monitoring real estate advertisements to assure that real estate companies, advertising companies, and condominium developments complied with HUD fair housing guidelines.
Suburban Maryland Fair Housing, Inc. ceased operations in 1990 when many of the functions of the organization were take over by various government agencies in wake of fair housing legislation, and SMFH lost its contract to perform fair housing testing in Montgomery County.