Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Desegregating Housing

WASHINGTON, DC (PR) – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a final rule to equip communities that receive HUD funding with data and tools to help them meet long-standing fair housing obligations in their use of HUD funds. HUD will also provide additional guidance and technical assistance to facilitate local decision-making on fair housing priorities and goals for affordable housing and community development.

For more than forty years, HUD funding recipients have been obligated by law to reduce barriers to fair housing, so everyone can access affordable, quality housing. Established in the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the law directs HUD and its program participants to promote fair housing and equal opportunity. This obligation was intended to ensure that every person in America has the right to fair housing, regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status. The final rule aims to provide all HUD program participants with clear guidelines and data they can use to achieve those goals.

“As a former mayor, I know firsthand that strong communities are vital to the well-being and prosperity of families,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. “Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child’s future.  This important step will give local leaders the tools they need to provide all Americans with access to safe, affordable housing in communities that are rich with opportunity.”

HUD’s final rule responds to the recommendations of a 2010 Government Accountability Office reportas well as stakeholders and HUD program participants who asked for clearer guidance, more technical assistance, better compliance and more meaningful outcomes.  HUD considered and incorporated feedback from the significant public input and comments that it received during the development of this final rule. For example, in response to public feedback, HUD will phase in implementation of the rule so that grantees have substantial time to transition to the new approach.  By encouraging a balanced approach that includes targeted investments in revitalizing areas, as well as increased housing choice in areas of opportunity, the rule will enable program participants to promote access to community assets such as quality education, employment, and transportation.

HUD’s rule clarifies and simplifies existing fair housing obligations and creates a streamlined Assessment of Fair Housing planning process, which will help communities analyze challenges to fair housing choice and establish their own goals and priorities to address the fair housing barriers in their community.  While the final rule will take effect 30 days after publication, it will not be fully implemented immediately.  HUD will provide support to program participants that need to complete an Assessment of Fair Housing to ensure they understand the process and to identify best practices across a diverse group of communities.

NYC Charged with Perpetuating Residential Segregation

New York, NY (PR) - The Anti-Discrimination Center (ADC), acting on behalf of three African-American plaintiffs, is challenging New York City’s policy of barring City residents who live outside the community district in which affordable housing is being built from competing on an equal basis for all available units.  The complaint was filed in federal district court in Manhattan.

New York City remains the second-most residentially segregated major city in the country, within one of the most segregated major metropolitan areas in the U.S.  The patterns of segregation in New York City are unmistakable, and arose from decades of intentional discrimination and segregation.

The segregation extends to the community district level.   For example, about 50 percent of the City’s African-American population lives in only about 15 percent of the City’s community districts. Because of existing segregation, New York City’s policy in connection with half of the units in a development -- favoring existing community district residents and disfavoring New Yorkers who live outside the community district -- winds up helping the dominant racial or ethnic group in the community district and hurting those groups who are underrepresented in the community district.

The Supreme Court just reaffirmed that perpetuation of segregation is illegal

The three developments identified in the complaint -- at 160 Madison Avenue, 200 East 39th Street, and 40 Riverside Boulevard, all in Manhattan -- are all in community districts where whites are overrepresented and where African-Americans are underrepresented.

“As the Supreme Court has just reaffirmed, policies that have a disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities or perpetuate segregation are illegal under the Fair Housing Act,” said Craig Gurian, ADC’s executive director and co-counsel for plaintiff.  “The City’s outsider-restriction policy starts with segregated neighborhoods and helps keep that segregation in place,” he continued.

“Surely in 2015, there is no place for a policy that denies New Yorkers the ability to compete on a level playing field for all affordable housing opportunities,” said Mariann Wang, a partner in the law firm of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP and co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

In establishing and maintaining its outsider-restriction policy, the complaint alleges, the City ignored the negative impact on families who live in racially concentrated areas of poverty; ignored the positive effects of residential mobility for families who move into neighborhoods of higher opportunity; and paid no heed to the voices of New Yorkers who want to be able to move freely to any City neighborhood and to do so on equal terms with other City residents. (A recent study -- They’re Our Neighborhoods, Too -- shows that strong majorities of African-American and Latino New Yorkers are willing to consider affordable housing in a wide range of new neighborhoods.)

An equal playing field does not affect affordability

It is important to understand that, whether an insider or an outsider, a New Yorker must meet the same income-eligibility criteria in order to be eligible for the affordable housing being developed.  In other words, the outsider-restriction policy has no impact on the ability of persons of limited financial means to obtain housing.  The outsider-restriction policy does not determine where housing will be built, only who (among people of the same income level) will get to live in it.

A new direction: becoming one city

“Mayor de Blasio has provided strong leadership in moving to try to increase the supply of affordable housing and in taking concrete steps to protect residents who wish to stay in place from harassment by housing providers,” Gurian noted.  “Supply and security are two important pieces of the affordable housing puzzle, but mobility -- giving people the opportunity to move freely to neighborhoods that had traditionally excluded them on the basis of race or national origin -- cannot be ignored,” he concluded.

“If we are to have any chance of becoming one city, rising together, we need to abandon the outsider-restriction policy this administration inherited from its predecessors and chart a path of equal opportunity and access,” said Eric Hecker, another partner at Cuti Hecker Wang LLP who is also representing the plaintiffs.

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