Recognizing the costs, burdens, and general stagnation associated with housing segregation can help lawmakers combat these practices by way of legislation. Communities not implementing fair housing practices may not only find their housing stock in an unbalanced crisis, but in a legal crisis as well.
HUD Applying Pressure
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is currently monitoring Westchester County, New York, on their efforts to affirmatively further fair housing. The county stands to lose federal dollars to the tune of $7.4 million if steps are not taken to support fair housing. HUD has already frozen these grants and the money will be returned to the Treasury Department if HUD does not distribute the funds soon – HUD will reallocate the dollars to municipalities whose integration policies are on point, if Westchester fails to comply with their recommendations. HUD gave Westchester instructions to build more affordable housing in communities that are predominantly white, remove instances of exclusionary zoning, and create source-of-income legislation, similar to that of Chicago’s. Further, Westchester needs to draft a thorough analysis of impediments to fair housing choice report. Previous attempts at this plan have been rejected by HUD. Some Westchester officials deny that exclusionary zoning exists in the county, however HUD disagrees. Strategies must be implemented to integrate people of color into the most demographically homogenous segments of the County.
Another focus of the current housing desegregation movement is the goal of incorporating mixed-income residences, particularly in communities where housing price point variety is lacking. Often, individuals work full-time jobs, but still cannot afford to secure quality housing close to their place of employment without their monthly housing expense exceeding 30% of their income. Municipalities can help balance their housing supply by ensuring their community has a fair amount of housing available across low, mid, and high-income ranges. Neighborhoods that embrace workforce housing are often more attractive to companies looking to invest. Access to a quality workforce produces a healthy mix; workers are employed, they contribute to local commerce, and businesses enjoy increased profits. This system’s success is contingent on a healthy workforce/housing match. Additionally, residents and municipalities reap benefits of reducing commute times for workers as there is less road, fuel, and transit usage.
City of Chicago ordinance
Chicago leads by example when it comes to creating legislation to support housing integration, and does not allow for discrimination against families that receive vouchers for subsidized housing. Advocates are working on the campaign to amend the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance to include Source of Income (SOI) Protection. This reform protects families with Housing Choice Vouchers against housing discrimination. Meaning that if a family has a Housing Choice Voucher as their source of income, a property manager or landlord must use the same application and screening requirements used for non-voucher holders. The presence of a Housing Choice Voucher cannot be reason alone to not rent an apartment to a family. This ordinance is important because it supports the concept of upward mobility, allowing voucher holders to self-integrate into neighborhoods of their choice. Opportunity neighborhoods are identified as communities with higher quality schools, employment, nutrition, and transit opportunities, as well as lower crime rates. This improvement in environment can be seen not only in the individual that makes a move to a community, but in future generations through better schools and socially enriching opportunities.
Removing discrimination by way of SOI is beneficial to all parties; municipalities benefit by having a diverse community, resulting in a balanced and fair environment in which to thrive. Residents enjoy access to institutions and resources that contribute to their quality of life, enabling them to be their best selves and contribute to society at the highest of each individual’s abilities. Municipal budgets and resources can be reallocated as the need for public assistance decreases and individuals are able to transition to self-sustaining lifestyles. In the residential leasing industry, vacancy and turnover are two issues property investors look to minimize in order to boost profits. Accepting housing vouchers supports this financial goal, as the bulk of the rental payment is coming from a regular, guaranteed source via monthly subsidy payment, and tax and financing incentives are available for buildings with integrated housing. In addition to the screening applied by the housing authority, a property owner is free to uphold the same income, background, and credit requirements used for non-voucher holders.
By ignoring segregation and not affirmatively furthering fair housing, municipalities are embracing de facto segregation, at the expense of their current residents and community vitality. This practice furthers pockets of low-income neighborhoods; clusters that create unhealthy issues for people living in and near these neighborhoods. As it is sometimes easy to forget, no human or neighborhood exists in an independent bubble – we are all connected, streets and taxes and environment links everyone, so what harms one, in fact harms all.
By Christina Scordia, Fair Housing Policy Research Assistant
Photo By June Marie