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Opening Acts Newsletter: August 19, 2013

Study Finds Housing Program Perpetuates Segregation

Report Advocates Changes to Expand Housing Choice and Reduce Segregation

On August 19, 2013, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) released a report entitled Choice Constrained, Segregation Maintained: Using Federal Tax Credits to Provide Affordable Housing. The report is based on an analysis of ten years of data on affordable housing developed under the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The FHJC obtained data from three tax credit allocation agencies in New York.

The premise of the study is that where affordable housing is located matters. Government housing policies have an impact on the range of housing choices available to lower-income families. The location of affordable housing can determine whether families have access to a variety of areas, including low-poverty communities that may offer greater employment opportunities, high-quality educational opportunities, and other important amenities. The federal Fair Housing Act requires that federal housing and community development programs be administered in a manner that affirmatively further fair housing so that program activities do not perpetuate or increase segregation. The study examined the location of low-income housing units based on the poverty concentration and racial composition of neighborhoods.

Some of the key findings contained in the report include:

• Most LIHTC affordable housing units (71%) were located in areas of high or extreme poverty.

• Most LIHTC affordable housing units (77%) were located in minority neighborhoods. 

• Nearly half of all LIHTC housing units in suburban areas were elderly units. 63% of the elderly units were located in low-poverty areas, while only 25% of the family units were located in these areas. Similarly, 74% of the suburban elderly units were developed in white or predominantly white areas, while only 31% of family units were located in these areas.

• LIHTC housing units were concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods regardless of whether they involved the rehabilitation or new construction of multifamily housing.

• More than half of the LIHTC housing units developed in the study area received tax credits from HPD. Only 2% of these units were located in low-poverty neighborhoods and only 9% were located in white or predominantly white areas in New York City.

The report includes more than a dozen recommended action steps to be taken by the U.S. Department of Treasury and three New York tax credit allocation agencies. These recommendations are aimed at ensuring that the LIHTC program operates in a manner that:

1. Complies with the federal Fair Housing Act and the duty to affirmatively further fair housing;

2. Expands housing choices available to lower-income and minority family households;

3. Deconcentrates poverty and reduces residential racial segregation;

4. Identifies and eliminates barriers to developing LIHTC housing for families in low-poverty areas; and

5. Provides incentives to promote the development of mixed-income housing.

In commenting on the study, FHJC President Gene Capello stated, “This well-researched and timely report shows us that legislation alone will not remedy residential segregation. It will take leadership and the will of those we entrust in government to step forward and execute their duties to ensure that programs comply with civil rights mandates and expand opportunity for all.” FHJC Executive Director Kumiki Gibson added, “This report underscores why it is important for government agencies to take their duty to affirmatively further fair housing seriously. Had they done so over the decade studied in our report, the LIHTC program could have expanded housing choices for lower-income families and contributed to a reduction in residential segregation. Our hope is that, going forward, these agencies will take steps to ensure that tax credits are used to create more mixed-income housing opportunities in low-poverty areas.”

The report was authored by Simon Kawitzky, Fred Freiberg, Diane L. Houk, and Salimah Hankins. Funding for the study was provided by the Ford Foundation. The full report is available on the FHJC website at www.fairhousingjustice.org/resources/publications.

New York Law Journal Features Article on Fair Housing

On July 25, 2013, the New York Law Journal (NYLJ) published an article written by Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) Board member, Attorney Robert A. Martin. The article, entitled Fair Housing Cases Show Breadth of Discrimination Laws, discusses recent fair housing case filings and decisions in New York City. The article highlights lawsuits brought by the FHJC and by local U.S. Attorney offices, including cases involving discrimination based on race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, and source of income. The article highlights legal issues dealing with agent liability, disparate impact, organizational standing for fair housing groups to file legal claims, sexual harassment, and reasonable accommodation requests to name a few.

More than anything, the author reminds all of us that illegal housing discrimination persists in limiting the housing choices available to many New Yorkers and that such practices continue to inflict serious harm on our community. The clear message conveyed through the article is that much work remains to be done to ensure equal housing opportunity for all. The FHJC thanks Bob Martin for taking the time to write such a thoughtful, informative, and timely article on fair housing. The link to the article can be found on the FHJC website at www.fairhousingjustice.org/resources/publications.