Center Joins NFHA & Co-Plaintiffs in Lawsuit Alleging Housing Discrimination by Bank of America

Earlier this week, the Center joined the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), 18 other fair housing organizations, and two Maryland homeowners in filing a lawsuit against Bank of America and Safeguard Properties Management alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit accuses Bank of America and Safeguard Properties of failing to maintain bank-owned properties in communities of color to the same level as their properties in white areas, amounting to discriminatory treatment that is illegal under federal fair housing law.

A rotted wooden porch railing, with view of yard in background showing trash on the ground.

One of the Bank of America-owned homes in New Haven.

For example, 45% of BOA-owned properties in communities of color had major maintenance problems – such as unkempt lawns, pests and rodents, boarded-up windows, and trash in the yard – compared with just 11% of the bank’s properties in white neighborhoods.  Their neglect affects property values, health & safety in these communities.

The lawsuit is the result of a multi-year investigation by NFHA and fair housing agencies across the country, including the Center. Together, we investigated more than 1,600 Bank of America-owned homes in working- and middle-class white, African-American, and Latino neighborhoods in 37 metropolitan areas nationwide, including in Connecticut.

Lisa Rice, the CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said, “Bank of America and Safeguard’s intentional failure to correct their discriminatory treatment in African American and Latino neighborhoods—the same communities hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis—is systemic racism. The purposeful neglect of bank-owned homes in communities of color devalues the properties and the lives of the families in the neighborhoods around them. The health and safety hazards created by these blighted bank-owned homes negatively affect the residents, especially the children, living nearby. We have asked Bank of America and Safeguard to provide the same standard of routine exterior maintenance and marketing for all of its bank-owned homes, regardless of the age, value, or racial composition of the neighborhood in which they are located.”

Other key findings from the investigation:

  • 64% of Bank of America properties in communities of color had trash or debris visible on the property, while only 31% of the bank’s properties in predominantly white neighborhoods had trash visible on the property.
  • 37% of Bank of America properties in communities of color had unsecured or broken doors, while only 16% of their properties in predominantly white neighborhoods had unsecured or broken doors.

Read the full details and view more photos from the investigation in NFHA’s press release. 

Read the Washington Post’s recent coverage of this case.

 

This post summarized and paraphrased a press release from the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Coded Language in Response to Affordable Housing Bill

I was driving home and listening to our state legislators debate an additional amendment to H.B. 5045, An Act Establishing Accountability for Fair and Affordable Housing through Zoning Regulations, and what I heard made my heart sink.

The bill was proposed by the Fair Housing Working Group, a bipartisan group of legislators, housing and land use policy experts, fair housing advocates (including our Executive Director), and developers formed last fall under the leadership of CT Dept. of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein.

The bill’s original intention was to enforce current state law which requires every municipality to permit the development of multifamily housing to help integrate our neighborhoods. Currently, twenty municipalities in Connecticut do not permit any multifamily housing anywhere in their towns.  Arguably, many more have a written provision for inclusion, but often any proposed multifamily development never materializes past the planning stage, unable to get planning and zoning approval.  All of the towns without multifamily zones are disproportionately White.

The bill does not require towns to develop multifamily housing, and it does not even require any multifamily housing developed to be deed restricted as affordable. The bill only requires municipalities to include provisions for multifamily housing (either by right or special permitting process) – something that has already been a requirement for twenty-five years!

However, the law currently on the books has no real consequences for municipalities that choose not to comply.  The main difference in this new bill would have been the inclusion of an enforcement measure: towns who do not allow multifamily housing development could lose state discretionary funding.

Unfortunately, long before the vote, the debate was already focused on the removal of any such enforcement measure.

One representative described the bill as “draconian,” while another explained that the bill “would make it impossible to maintain the character of his town.” Given that multifamily housing is the least expensive way of promoting integration, it is clear that there is limited political will to move in this direction. The debate on H.B. 5054 suggests that some Connecticut leaders believe that making all 169 municipalities in our state available to everyone is a cruel directive to impose on the communities that have ignored the current law for twenty-five years. It suggests that rural areas should only be made available to individuals and families who have the economic means to purchase homes, and that the preferred “character” of these communities means excluding diversity.

I often say that we need to remember that people write policy, and that policy does not write itself.  People make decisions that determine how we develop Connecticut, and the debate among our state representatives was extremely disheartening, and clearly indicated why we remain an extremely segregated state.

Executive Director on the 50th Anniversary of the FHA in CT Mirror’s Sunday Conversation

The Center’s Executive Director, Erin Kemple, was interviewed for The CT Mirror‘s Sunday Conversation this week, discussing where we are fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Here are a few key quotes from the interview:

“The Fair Housing Act was passed to do two things: One was to outlaw discrimination, and the second was to promote integration. And it’s the promoting integration part that we have not made much headway in. If you look at the statistics, Connecticut is one of the most segregated areas in the country. Bridgeport is number four. When you look at white-Latino segregation, Hartford’s number seven. And all of Connecticut ranks in the top 10 percent for white-black segregation. […]

We have done a study, and it’s on our website, that shows that African-Americans who are high income, African-Americans making over $170,000 a year, are denied mortgages at twice the rate of whites making less than $70,000 dollars a year. So it’s not just about the money. And certainly when we do fair-housing testing, it’s not just about the numbers, and it’s not just about the money. We’re finding consistently that the African-Americans are not quoted the same mortgage rates as white people.  […]

We did some testing where we just had people walk into a bank branch. It was in an all-white neighborhood. A Latina says, ‘I’m on my lunch hour. I just need some information about what kinds of loans you have. Do you have anything in writing?’

‘No, we don’t do loans in this branch. You need to go to this other branch. We don’t have any information here.’

A white tester goes in about a half hour later. They have written information. They have offered to call a loan officer so that she can set up an appointment, and they are encouraging her. […]

We are segregated. We have housing, especially affordable housing, placed where it is because of decisions that were made by the government, by local governments, federal and state governments. So they are the ones that have to fix this, and this is why the zoning [legislation] that the governor was talking about [Wednesday at a celebration of the 50th anniversary] is so important. It is putting the onus back on the cities and the towns to open up their communities to people other than the people who have always lived there or who live there now.”

 

Read the rest of Erin Kemple’s interview with The CT Mirror here.

Special thanks to Mark Pazniokas from The CT Mirror for taking the time to chat with Erin.

Governor Malloy Proclaims April 11th “Fair Housing Day”

Executive Director Erin Kemple accepting “Fair Housing Day” Proclamation from Governor Malloy

In front of a small and dedicated bipartisan group of legislators, state officials, and fair housing advocates, Governor Dannel Malloy proclaimed today, April 11th, to be recognized as “Fair Housing Day” in the state of Connecticut. The proclamation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act.   Upon accepting the proclamation, the Center’s Executive Director, Erin Kemple, explained that the discriminatory practices and policies of our past continue today, pointing out that “high income families of color are denied mortgages at twice the rate of low income white families.”  She also noted that discriminatory practices in housing today are typically not as overt as they were at the time of the FHA’s passage, but are now often cloaked in different dress. 

 

The Governor answered questions from the press about HB 5045, the bill he proposed this year that would promote housing choice and ensure local accountability by attaching municipalities’ access to discretionary funds to their compliance with fair housing and inclusionary zoning regulations.  Some reporters questioned whether attaching zoning to discretionary funding is going to be a “hard sell” for lawmakers. Governor Malloy explained that municipalities in Connecticut have had fifty years to do the right thing, and the requirements of C.G.S. 8-2 have been in place for 27 years. It is time for communities to follow the requirements. The Center provided written testimony in support of H.B. 5045.

 

Fifty years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, Connecticut remains one the most segregated states in our country. Ending housing segregation and enforcing the Fair Housing Act is the work we are all proud to do at the Center. Today reminds us all that there is still so much work to do.

 

Read the Governor’s press release about today’s event here.

Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

Until the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 – fifty years ago this month – the bill that would become the Fair Housing Act was the most filibustered bill in history.  But with the nation rocked by widespread riots in the wake of the civil rights leader’s murder, Congress spent seven days engaged in political maneuverings that prevented the legislation from being debated, smuggling drafts out of the Capitol to prevent theft or alteration, and lobbying Senators from the South before finally passing the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) on April 11th, 1968.

The Fair Housing Act was designed to do two things.  First, it outlawed discriminatory actions which prevented individuals who were members of a protected class from obtaining housing, mortgages or insurance.  Second, it tasked federal, state, and local governments with promoting integration by requiring them to affirmatively further fair housing in their programs.

Today, there are fewer overt acts of discrimination like those seen when the FHA was passed.  Instead housing discrimination is now cloaked in different dress.  Newspapers no longer separate their advertisements into “Colored” and “White.”  Instead, housing providers refuse to rent to people with housing subsidies, a practice that disproportionately impacts people of color (while this type of discrimination is illegal in Connecticut, the Center still receives hundreds of these complaints each year). Or they impose different requirements and rules on applicants of color compared with White applicants.Fair Housing Act 50th Anniversary logo

Laws no longer force individuals labelled “mentally feeble” or people with physical disabilities to be institutionalized; however, stereotypes and unfounded fears lead to the shuttering of group homes or their confinement to high poverty urban areas.  Affordable housing for people who are elderly, who in Connecticut are 87% White, is typically welcomed, while similar housing for families with children (more than 60% of CT residents under 18 are African-American or Latino) is often characterized as damaging to the “character of the neighborhood” and protested at public hearings.

As a result of these subtle acts of discrimination, there has been little progress on erasing the segregation caused by past overt acts of discrimination by federal, state, and local governments.  While lawsuits have made some progress in desegregating the Hartford area’s schools, little progress has been made in desegregating neighborhoods.  The movement to end unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities has reduced that practice, but efforts to ensure all neighborhoods welcome people with mental health diagnoses are barely off the ground.  Cities and towns still fail to zone for affordable housing, leaving high-poverty areas to absorb and serve the needs of still more people who are poor.  And there is more sympathy for millennials who are priced out of desirable housing markets than families with children who pay upwards of 40% of their income for housing.

Yes, we have made progress since 1968, but we will not have a truly integrated society until all neighborhoods welcome all people.

Join us in marking the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and recognizing those who continue the fight for fair housing today at our upcoming Loving Civil Rights Award Dinner.

Read more about the long and bumpy road to the passage of the Fair Housing Act and its aftermath.

Learn more about the history of fair housing at the Center’s display this month at the Legislative Office Building.

 

For a closer look at the seven days between MLK’s assassination and the passage of the Fair Housing Act, check out this short documentary from the National Fair Housing Alliance:

 

A version of this post was originally published as a guest post on the Partnership for Strong Communities blog.

New Display at the Capitol Highlights Fair Housing Milestones

Posters about Fair Housing on the wall at the Legislative Office Building

Every April, in honor of Fair Housing Month, the Center curates a display about fair housing for Connecticut’s Legislative Office Building to educate legislators, staff, and the many advocates, students, and visitors who pass through the Capitol buildings on a daily basis.

 

 

Because 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, we decided that this year’s display would focus on the significance of this seminal piece of legislation, highlighting the events that led to its passage as well as some events that have occurred since Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law back on April 11, 1968.  We created a timeline covering 100 years of history to explain how policies and seminal court decisions created and maintain the segregated neighborhoods we see across Connecticut today.

 

For example, you may know that the 1944 Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (better known as the G.I. Bill) helped to create the largest middle class in the nation’s history after World War II.  This legislation helped millions of returning veterans attend college and buy homes, building wealth that would be passed down to future generations.

Posters about fair housing history at the Legislative Office Building concourse

However, many people don’t realize that African-American veterans were left out of the bill’s most powerful benefits.  While White veterans took advantage of new low-interest mortgage loans to buy homes in the growing suburbs, many Black veterans were unable to obtain mortgages because banks wouldn’t lend to them or underwrite loans in non-white neighborhoods, a practice called redlining that was backed by the federal government.  In fact, banks even refused to lend to White families who wanted to buy homes in diverse neighborhoods.  Black veterans who could obtain mortgages were often blocked from buying in white neighborhoods because of racially restrictive covenants, racial steering by real estate agents, and other discriminatory practices.

The rest of the display highlights similar policies, practices, and court cases that shaped neighborhoods in Connecticut and across the country – for better or for worse – all the way up to the present day.

 

Congratulations to our 2018 Student Poster Contest Finalists!

The display also includes a look at the future of fair housing from the finalists of our annual Fair Housing Poster Contest. Students in 6th – 12th grades from schools across Connecticut submitted artwork that reflected this year’s theme: Choice. Mobility. Equity.  Their artwork is fantastic!   This year’s finalists are:6 colorful posters, finalists in the Fair Housing poster contest, hanging on a wall in the Legislative Office Building

Joe Barberi, Norwich Technical High School

Ashley Edmund, Norwich Technical High School

Dewlys Maldondo, Hartford Trinity College Academy

Outdam Nuon, Norwich Technical High School

Marysabel Rivera, Connecticut River Academy

Yeji Yang, Northwest Catholic High School

 

The winners will be announced at the end of April.

The Center’s Fair Housing Month display can be viewed on the Lower Concourse between the Capitol and the LOB now through April 13th.  If you find yourself in Hartford, we encourage you to stop by and take a look!

Want more Fair Housing history?  Check out the National Fair Housing Alliance’s interactive 50th anniversary timeline of the Fair Housing Act.  Interested in what happened closer to home?  Find out about the Center’s Fair Housing Tour of Hartford!

 

Join us for the 39th Annual FHACt Conference!

Fair Housing Association of CT LogoThe Fair Housing Association of Connecticut (FHACt)’s 39th annual Fair Housing Conference is set for April 26th in Rocky Hill.  The 2018 Conference will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, discuss the issues of the day, and reinvigorate us as we look ahead.

The event will include a screening of “A House Divided,” the episode from last year’s acclaimed America Divided series exploring housing discrimination, segregation, and fair housing enforcement in New York City.   Following the screening, the Center will present on some of our recent fair housing testing results and other research to reveal what these issues look like here in Connecticut. The Center will then join staff from the CT Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities (CHRO) in facilitating an interactive exercise on using the concepts from “A House Divided” to spur action.

The conference’s keynote speaker will be Debby Goldberg from the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the day will conclude with a presentation on housing for formerly incarcerated people by “The Real Women of Orange is the New Black.”  It should be a powerful day of learning and inspiration for all of us who are committed to fair housing in Connecticut.

We hope to see you on April 26th!

Click here to see full details and learn how to register for the 2018 FHACt Conference.

 

An Accidental Jump into New London’s History

When I first met Laura Natusch, the Executive Director of New London Landmarks, I did not expect that agreeing to collaborate on a fair housing history project would literally take me all over the city of New London, Connecticut. We have done important (and fun) work

Flyer for educational event on New London's Lost Neighborhood, set for April 10th at 7pm at Mount Moriah Church in New London, CT.uncovering missing streets, and unearthing historic pictures and maps of this small Whaling City that rests on Long Island Sound.

In 1962, the City of New London passed a referendum to begin the Winthrop Cove Urban Renewal project. While some urban renewal projects are well documented and widely known, this specific slum removal plan is not. And because every untold story needs a voice, Laura and I went exploring to figure out how the built environment changed as a result of the Winthrop Cove Urban Renewal project, and how discrimination played a role.

1962 New London City Council meeting minutes

1962 New London City Council minutes.

The project found us deep in the dusty stacks of New London’s City Hall and reviewing months of microfilm at the City library. We have read old City Council minutes and walked the City to figure out exactly where the project took place and imagine what was lost. Volunteers and retired librarians have stepped in to help us, and every new finding feels kind of like the excitement of anticipating the next firework during a fourth of July display.

We can’t wait to share what we have learned and uncovered!

Please join the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, New London Landmarks, and our guest speaker Lonnie Braxton, former President of the NAACP New London Chapter, for a free educational event that will tell the story of how decades of discriminatory policies led to the divestment of one neighborhood, and how “urban renewal” removed it from the maps:

Discrimination, Urban Renewal, and New London’s Lost Neighborhood

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mount Moriah Church, 22 Moore Ave. New London, CT

7:00pm – 8:30pm

Refreshments from Washington Street Coffee House will be provided!

Community Research on Eviction

Trinity College’s new Liberal Arts Action Lab at 10 Constitution Plaza, Hartford.  Photo retrieved from: http://commons.trincoll.edu/action-lab/transportation/

Research shows that people of color, women, and families with children are disproportionately impacted by eviction.  The Center’s Staff Attorney Salmun Kazerounian and Education & Outreach Coordinator Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens are working with students from Trinity College and Capital Community College at the Liberal Arts Action Lab to investigate the effects of eviction on residents of the greater Hartford area.

Inspired by the book Evicted by Matthew Desmond, the Center hopes to develop a greater understanding of who is most affected by eviction and how Connecticut families cope after an eviction.

Facing Eviction or Need Housing in Connecticut?

Connecticut Legal Services

Connecticut 2-1-1

 

Additional Research on Eviction:

Evicting Children

Eviction and the Reproduction of Urban Poverty, by Matthew Desmond

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