News Flash: Segregation in Public Housing!
Almost half a century after the Fair Housing Act, it has finally become unacceptable for the agency charged with enforcing it to allow segregation in its own buildings. HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo announced on March 23rd that HUD was taking measures against public housing’s segregation by race and class, in accordance with the Public Housing Reform Act of 1998. If a housing authority fails to reduce undue concentrations or creates new segregation, HUD will first negotiate a voluntary compliance agreement, and then if necessary reduce aid to the authority or finally move to take it over.
Although all of the instances of segregation mentioned in HUD’s press release involve egregious racial discrimination or steering, it seems that the most concrete parts of the new directive are aimed at “income deconcentration.” Buildings and prospective tenants will be classified by relative income and placed to prevent concentrating the lowest or highest income groups in one place. Authorities will even be allowed to “temporarily skip particular families” on their waiting lists to achieve income deconcentration, something that could easily translate into PHAs having power to be selective for less noble reasons as well. To address racial segregation authorities are required to have admissions policies that “affirmatively further fair housing.”
Homeless full-time workers are an increasingly common phenomenon across the country, but Silicon Valley is yet again the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the consequences of extreme income gaps. “Stock option millionaires bid on houses as though they were buying Van Goghs,” writes Evelyn Nieves in The New York Times (2/20/00). Meanwhile, professionals earning over $50,000/year are sleeping on the all-night bus or standing in the soup kitchen line. Maybe the constituency for affordable housing is broader than we thought.