Business

Remembering a 'housing hero' 50 years after his death

President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his White House office in Washington, D.C., Jan. 18, 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 provided much-needed protection for minorities and others when it comes to housing.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his White House office in Washington, D.C., Jan. 18, 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 provided much-needed protection for minorities and others when it comes to housing. AP

DEAR MR. MYERS: Does the federal Fair Housing Act prohibit sellers or landlords from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation?

ANSWER: No. A handful of cities specifically have extended federal anti-discrimination housing protection to LGBTQ individuals and couples, but the U.S. government itself does not.

The federal Fair Housing Act, part of the larger Civil Rights Act of 1968, initially prohibited a seller, landlord or bank from discriminating against a buyer or tenant based on race, religion, national origin or sex. In later years, Congress expanded the law to ban discrimination based on a person’s disability or family status.

The proposed legislation had been languishing in Congress for more than two years. But President Lyndon B. Johnson finally pushed through the Capitol Hill morass and persuaded lawmakers to approve it just days after civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee.

President Johnson said his approval of the landmark legislation was a fitting tribute to the slain Dr. King. It’s fitting, too, that so many Americans will honor the African-American minister and peaceful activist on Jan. 15, which would have been his 89th birthday.

This also is a good time to wish Unionville, Maryland, a belated happy 150th birthday. Not far from the Chesapeake Bay, it essentially was founded by 18 black veterans who had fought in the pro-Lincoln United States Colored Troops during the Civil War.

Unionville is believed to be the only American town to be founded by war vets who previously had been enslaved. No slaves were allowed in the Talbot County community, where pro-slavery supporters still were angry about losing the War.

Naming the town “Unionville,” after the hated Union government, made the pro-South residents in the rest of Talbot County even angrier – but it also made a dramatic statement by the now-freed black vets about the principles of equality and liberty.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Not trivial at all, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling of 1948 in Shelley vs. Kraemer said that failing to sell a house or rent an apartment to someone based solely on their race was illegal. It took another 20 years, but President Johnson’s approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 essentially gave the federal government power to enforce the Supreme Court’s earlier decision.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I enjoyed your recent column about towns that are named after food. But how did you forget about my mom’s home, the city of Two Egg, Florida?

ANSWER: I’m sorry, but that column was about holiday dinners, rather than breakfast the next day.

I always am amazed that I can spend 50 hours or more researching and writing about a new tax law or Supreme Court ruling, and only two or three readers will send a follow-up question. But if I don’t mention their hometown in the silliest of columns (like the one I penned a few weeks ago about towns that are named after food), I get showered with letters from good folks like you who lament that a community they love wasn’t mentioned.

That said, Two Egg, Florida, would be a great place to have your morning meal. So would Cereal, Pennsylvania or Oatmeal, Texas - especially if you pick-up some fruit for your bowl in Strawberry, South Carolina.

Don’t forget your bread from Toast, North Carolina. Something from Bacon, Texas, would be good too.

With all due respect to my relatives and friends in the Bluegrass State, I’d skip breakfast in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. But some fried grits from Hominy, Oklahoma, would be nice - if they don’t come from the fields of Burnt Corn, Alabama.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I moved from Texas to Florida in August to take a new job. Will my moving expenses be deductible on my 2017 federal income tax return?

ANSWER: Yes, at least some of them will be deductible. Generally, the Internal Revenue Service will let you write off your moving expenses if your new job is at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old job was. If you meet this so-called “distance test” - which you obviously do - you can deduct the cost of hiring professional movers (both for packing and the actual transportation of your household goods), or the cost of renting a moving truck if you’re doing the work yourself.

You also can deduct the cost of travel for yourself and the members of your household from your old home to your new one. That includes the cost of lodging, but not meals.

Additionally, the IRS provides move-related mileage deductions if you or a family member drove your personal vehicle to the new home. You can deduct either the actual expenses, such as the amount you pay for gas and oil, or a flat 17 cents for each mile that was traveled.

There are some caveats: For starters, expenses that are reimbursed by your new employer are not deductible. Equally important, you must take the most direct route from your old home to your new one. That means that if you moved from Dallas to Miami but decided to spend a week’s vacation in Chicago along the way, you can’t expect Uncle Sam to help subsidize your sightseeing detour.

Get a free copy of IRS Publication 521, “Moving Expenses,” by downloading it from www.irs.gov or by phoning the agency at 800-829-3676. Also consider talking with an accountant or similar expert.

Your job relocation occurred last year, so your related write-offs are safe. But most people who move this year or beyond won’t be as lucky: The recently approved Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts repeals the moving-expense deductions, beginning in tax year 2018, for all except certain members of the Armed Services.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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