Attacks on Fair Housing and Affordable Housing Demands

rallyNew Orleans    Talking on “Wade’s World” on KABF with George Washington University sociology professor and frequent author, Gregory Squires, about his recent piece in Social Policy on the impact of the Occupy movement, he underlined his concern that the “disparate impact” theory is under review in the term of the US Supreme Court and the threat that decision could hold for fair housing advocates.  It’s worth the worry.

As a Justice Department official noted several months ago, real estate agents, landlords, and others have cleaned up their act so that there is little of what she called “pants-down discrimination,” in what they say, but there is still plenty in what they do, and the “disparate impact” theory has been the prevailing tool to assure fair housing without discrimination.  If the impact is discriminatory, regardless of the intent, then it has to stop so that diverse populations do not face housing discrimination.  HUD according to all reports is hustling to enshrine one single standard for disparate impact in regulations in hopes that the Supreme Court will follow its usual tendency of allowing the government and its regulations to prevail in the separation of powers.  Given the recent tendency of the Court’s majority to bend over backwards in pretending that the days of discrimination are over, it’s a valid fear for housing advocates.  The Justices might be persuaded to temper there 1950’s “good times are back again” viewpoints in the wake of Ferguson and New York City protests and disturbances, but we certainly can’t count on it.

We also talked about the ongoing “push out” of low and moderate income families from executive cities because they can’t afford the housing.   Squires and the DC-based community organization, ONE, Organization of the North East, have been campaigning for equitable development and have a 2nd conference on the issue coming to Washington soon.  Coincidentally, I had just heard from a colleague studying at the Yale School of Architecture about an assignment they have to try to design 100,000 units of affordable housing in San Francisco.  It’s not academic when you read recently that experts are referring to the Tenderloin, the San Francisco district known largely for union local headquarters and derelicts over the years, as the last “working class neighborhood” in the city.

Ottawa ACORN was also in the news on the same kind of issue in Canada, where they are putting on pressure to win “inclusionary zoning” that would establish affordable housing as a mandatory requirement in any new housing development over a certain size.

Ottawa ACORN coordinator Curtis Bulatovich said they want inclusionary zoning and hope a private members bill, introduced in Queens Park by Etobicoke-Lakeshore Liberal MPP Peter Milczyn, is approved. It would give cities the power to mandate a certain percentage of total units as affordable housing in residential development of 20 or more units that require by-law amendments.  “We wouldn’t have as many “ghettos” in this city and cities across the province. It would be an affordable enough thing for developers to do and it would also show that they are giving back to their communities,” Bulatovich told CFRA News. He said the time to act is now.

“In a lot of areas, specifically Westboro, you have a lot of empty, beautiful newly built condominium (units) and I was thinking you could easily, easily have those to inclusionary zoning.”

He could have added “before it’s too late,” which increasingly seems to be the crisis we’re facing in a number of cities in the United States and in places like London and Paris around the globe.

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