Highly Segregated Miami

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fair Housing Push for Highly Segregated Miami

Updated 10:51 a.m.
By John Dorschner
    With conservatives warning the move could ruin traditional neighborhoods, the Obama Administration has  cast a rule intended to reduce discrimination in housing -- a huge issue for Miami, one of the most segregated cities in America.
    The move is intended to clarify and strengthen the impact of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which created broad brush strokes never fully implemented.
    “Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child’s future," said Julian Castro, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in his July announcement. "This important step will give local leaders the tools they need to provide all Americans with access to safe, affordable housing in communities that are rich with opportunity.”
        Keenya Robertson, chief executive of Miami-based HOPE, Inc., which performs fair housing services for Miami-Dade, said recently that
Kennya Robertson
the new guidance orders first local governments to make a detailed analysis of housing discrimination, measuring impediments to equality, then forming a plan to enforce the fair housing law.
    At present, local jurisdictions are "all over the place" about how they measure and take action, Robertson said. "There was guidance [before] but no real strong outline." Under the new rule, "essentially the teacher" -- the federal government -- "grades your paper."
    Conservatives see the matter far differently. The right-wing National Review called the rule "easily one of President Obama's most radical initiatives, on a par with Obamacare in its transformative potential. In effect, [the rule] gives the federal government a lever to re-engineer nearly every American neighborhood."
                              Too Jewish? Too Caucasian? 

    Marc A. Thiessen, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he was in favor of Americans of all races having the freedom to live where they want, but "apparently, President Obama thinks your neighborhood may not be inclusive enough," so he created a rule "to force communities to diversify.
     "The federal government should have no say over whether your neighborhood is too Jewish, or too Caucasian, or has too many married couples," Thiessen huffed.
     Robertson said she was puzzled by the criticism since the rule is intended merely to get local governments obey a law that's almost a half-century old. "To me opposition makes no sense." 
Michael Liu
 Michael Liu, director of public housing and community development for the county, said in an email: "There are many facets to this new rule and we are studying it carefully." He emphasized his department "is committed to the goals of fair housing."
    Updated paragraph: Among other things, the rule -- technically called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing -- has a long ramp up time. Robertson said that the guidance doesn't take effect nationally until 2017 and Miami-Dade doesn't need to deal with it until 2020, when the county has its next HUD 
"consolidated planning period."
     Miami-Dade is heavily segregated, according to a 2011 study, The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis: New Findings from the 2010 Census, by John Logan of Brown University and Brian Shults of Florida State, available HERE.
    Of the 50 major metropolitan areas with large black populations, Miami ranked as the seventh most segregated. What's more, Miami has been getting progressively more segregated since the 1990 census, according to the Logan-Shults analysis.
    Miami's disparities can be clearly seen on a map, using 2010 census data, created by Dustin Cable at the University of Virginia. Orange dots are Hispanic, green dots non-Hispanic blacks, blue dots non-Hispanic whites. (Full map available HERE.) 

Portion of Miami-Dade. Miami Beach is the island mass on the right. Source: Dustin Cable, University of Viriginia

    In South Florida, the 27-year-old nonprofit HOPE Inc. is the watchdog for fair housing. With a staff of nine -- two in Broward -- it sends volunteer testers (generally one black, one Hispanic or non-Hispanic white) to rental properties suspected of discrimination.
    One recent case, filed in federal court in April, involved the Nile Gardens Apartments in Opa-locka, which is 65 percent black. Three times, according to a federal lawsuit filed in April, HOPE sent testers to the complex. In each case, Hispanics were welcomed and shown apartments, while black testers that showed up within minutes of the Hispanics were told they had to come back later or nothing was immediately available.
    The lawsuit, filed by Randall Berg and Dante Pasquale Trevisani of the Florida Justice Institute, also alleges that blacks already living in the apartment complex are harassed. "Blacks are not allowed to have dogs, Hispanics are allowed to have dogs. Blacks are not allowed to sit on their porches, while Hispanics are allowed to sit on their porches."
Nile Gardens Apartments in Opa-locka. Photo from Google Maps.
    Attorneys for Nile Gardens, Edwin Cruz and Juan Carlos Zorrilla of Fowler White Burnett, responded in court filings that about 35 percent of the tenants are black and that Nile Gardens  maintains "a non-discrimination policy and ... routinely rent to African American or black tenants."
    In its defense, Nile Gardens noted that several of the testers dealt with a maintenance worker, Felipe Alvarez, who wasn't authorized to show or rent apartments. Its lawyers found several testers' accounts of dealings with Alvarez to be "highly unlikely."
    No date has been set for trial.
                      A Hundred Complaints a Year

    Updated section: Robertson, HOPE's chief executive, said her staff gets about 300 calls a year from county residents, about 100 of them dealing with fair housing issues. She said her office doesn't report how often her testers find discrimination because they're not doing surveys but rather targeting properties trying to "identify discriminatory practices. Evidence of differential treatment is not always of discriminatory treatment, so we don't report all differences as discrimination."
     Roberson said her focus is "enforcement, not research."  While it doesn't do its own surveys of discrimination trends it participates in and conducts market surveys initiated by other entities. End updated section. 
    Liu, the county's director of housing and a former federal HUD official, said in an email that his office is constantly working on discrimination issues: 
    "As an example, within the last year we worked with HUD ... to ensure that through a formal 'voluntary compliance agreement' that we will indeed meet the regulatory requirement that at least 459 units of our public housing inventory will be Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards’ (UFAS) compliant, by a firm deadline of January 2019. In fact, we are ahead of schedule. 
    "We continue to learn more about how this this new rule interacts with other laws related to delivery of resources and services to minorities and those of low income, and policies associated with other financing resources for affordable housing," Liu wrote. "We will always work closely with HUD, legal counsel, and other stakeholders to ensure fairness and compliance in our administration of our programs."
         Supreme Court Surprises with 5-4 decision

    Nationally, the Fair Housing Act got an unexpected boost in late June when the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision (with Justice Anthony Kennedy the swing vote) involving a Texas case in which the majority ruled that housing discrimination didn't need to be intentional for it to violate the Fair Housing Act.    
    President Barack Obama hailed the decision in a July radio address: "The Court recognized what many people know to be true from their own lives:  that too often, where people live determines what opportunities they have in life.
    "In some cities, kids living just blocks apart lead incredibly different lives," the President said. "They go to different schools, play in different parks, shop in different stores, and walk down different streets.  And often, the quality of those schools and the safety of those parks and streets are far from equal – which means those kids aren’t getting an equal shot in life."     

     Thiessen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute decried Obama's move, but warned: "Republicans need to be very careful. Democrats want the GOP to rail against this rule and see it as an opportunity to paint the Republicans as the party that wants to protect the wealthy, white suburbs and keep out poor people of color."

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