Utah is 20 years behind the nation as one of only six states lacking fair housing laws, housing advocates say.

"It's another embarrassment that Utah is 20 years behind the time, especially since we're a state that likes to take care of its own," said Mark Lundgren, president of the Utah Housing Coalition, a non-profit organization and advocacy group for low-income people.The National Fair Housing Act, which protects renters or buyers from discrimination due to race, religion or sex, was adopted as part of civil rights legislation in 1968.

A Utah Fair Housing Bill, sponsored by State Sen. K.S. Cornaby, R-Salt Lake, failed to pass in the last seconds of last Legislature. The proposed bill adopted the standards of the 20-year-old national bill, but also protected single parents and handicapped people from housing discrimination.

Lundgren's group, as well as the Community Housing Resource Board, the Community Action Program, Utah Issues and the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development, joined for a Friday press conference.

Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis proclaimed Friday as Fair Housing Day, to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of a national law and to spur a similar state law. The month of April is recognized nationally as Fair Housing Month.

The Community Action Program has been awarded a grant to establish a hotline and educate the public about housing discrimination.

Currently, if Utah residents feel they have been discriminated against, they have to file complaints through the regional office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Denver or through the national office in Washington, D.C. "That means essentially any discrimination that goes on is unchecked," Lundgren said.

Lundgren said HUD worked on 17 cases in Utah last year. "That apparently is a fairly high number. That should be buffered by the fact that most cases in Utah go unmentioned because people don't want to go through the hassle of calling Denver or Washington. They just want housing."