AUSTIN (Nexstar) – It’s been 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law and while housing advocates are celebrating the anniversary, they’re acknowledging that many barriers remain.

“I don’t think people realize how much discrimination actually occurs in housing,” Nekesha Phoenix, fair housing program director with the Austin Tenants’ Council, said.

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law intended to protect people from discrimination when they are renting, buying or securing financing for housing. Landlords are barred from discriminating people based on their race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability and the presence of children.

Phoenix was one of dozens of fair housing advocates who gathered at the Austin Convention Center for the 2018 Fair Housing Summit. She’s worked in this field for more than 20 years.

“I’ve seen a little bit of everything,” Phoenix said. “I’m still seeing the racial discrimination that occurs. I still see discrimination based on familial status.”

Phoenix says she’s seen situations where families are fined when their children are playing outside by themselves.

“A lot of people who have experienced housing discrimination are very nervous about stepping forward and actually asserting their rights,” she said.

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro said he knows there are challenges left to tackle, but highlighted the accomplishments of this federal law.

“The fact is, everywhere today, we see the impact of the Fair Housing Act every time somebody looks at an apartment listing on the internet or in a newspaper, every time a family goes out to buy a home or get a mortgage,” he said.

He urged people like Phoenix to keep doing their jobs, which he described as “the hard every day work of giving life to this law.”

Prior to the session on Tuesday, a group gathered in front of the ballroom to draw attention to homelessness in the community.

“In my experience, working particularly with the chronically homeless of Austin, what I see is that the resources available have many dimensions of barriers to them,” Heidi Sloan with Mobile Loaves and Fishes said. Sloan said she hopes the demonstration the group organized raises awareness about the challenges homeless people face when trying to pursue housing.

“In order to pursue housing at all, a person has to pursue acquiring an ID, transportation, jobs, mental healthcare and physical healthcare.”

According to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, if you think your rights have been violated, you have one year after the alleged incident to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission.

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