Discrimination in Fair Housing?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently adopted a new definition of housing discrimination. In addition to prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, etc. the HUD’s duty is to “affirmatively further fair housing goals.” That means the question of fair housing is no longer one of actual discrimination, but rather one of disparate impact.

Instead of requiring specific evidence that someone was denied a house on the basis of his or her minority status, the inference of discrimination based on numbers alone is now enough for legal intervention. This shift in policy is in part due to a larger movement of affirmative action favored by the Obama Administration. 

Under Title VIII of the new HUD policy, known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), all recipients of HUD funding are responsible for taking an active role in achieving integration within their communities. HUD counts housing policy as fair if and only if it is actively “reducing disparities by race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability.” Jurisdictions are legally required to create a list of impediments to integration in their communities, take action to overcome these issues, and record their progress in doing do. 

As a result of the new HUD stipulations, several localities have faced, and continue to face, intense scrutiny. In one such case, the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York sued Westchester County, a predominantly white upper-middle-class community in southeast New York, on the grounds that it denied housing to minority groups.

The county was never found guilty of discrimination of any kind. Nonetheless, a federal judge ruled that county officials had misrepresented Westchester’s fair-housing enforcement efforts. The judge threatened to fine Westchester County in excess of $1 million if local officials did not approve funding for 750 low-income housing units, all of which were to be located in 31 of its predominately white communities. 

By forcing Westchester County to build these low-income housing units, the federal judge grossly overstepped the boundaries of federal power. The federal government has no business telling people where they can or cannot live.

Free choice in the market for housing inevitably causes disparities among neighborhoods, but HUD should not intervene with a radical new take on how residential life in America should be organized. 

To this point, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino argues that “Washington-driven social engineering” threatens liberty, local zoning practices, and the suburban way of life. Astorino has gone as far as to ask if HUD would facilitate the breakdown of residential communities in Vermont or Maine for being too white, or destroy ethnic neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, on the basis that they are not diverse enough. 

Although many Westchester residents agree with Astorino’s sentiments, those who are most vehemently opposed to building low-income housing units hail from former Secretary of State Clinton’s hometown of Chappaqua.

Chappaqua residents fear that building low-income housing will not only lower property values, but also that it will also have a negative effect on those who live in the low-income units. Low income families, thrust into a community like Chappaqua, run the risk of becoming social pariahs if they cannot afford to maintain the same lifestyle as the rest of the town’s residents.

Until recently, Chappaqua has been able to delay the building of these units by refusing to approve zoning variances. 

A similar lawsuit recently occurred in Texas. An organization called the Inclusive Communities Project sued the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for allowing the creation of “segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.” The Supreme Court eventually tried this case. On June 25, 2015, the Supreme Court sided with the Inclusive Communities Project in a 5-4 decision. 

For now, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing policy is here to stay and the residents of Chappaqua will have to prepare to welcome their new neighbors.