YIMBY (Yes in my back yard!)

Virginia Supportive Housing’s New Clay House Expansion

The New Clay House is a 47-unit building located at 1125 W. Clay Street in Richmond, Va.  It is owned and managed by Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH). Opened in 1992, it houses formerly homeless single adults and is part of Virginia Supportive Housing’s portfolio of housing units which provide transitional housing for individuals who need extra supportive services to stabilize their lives and retain permanent housing. New Clay House has aged and become out of date. The units are single room occupancy (SRO) and residents share communal bathrooms and kitchens. Virginia Supportive Housing recently submitted a plan to the city which will renovate and expand New Clay House to a total of 80 units. The new project will include green space, will use energy efficient building standards and the units will be converted from SRO’s to full apartments. It will use a variety of tax credits and other funding sources so the project will not cost the city any money.

When neighbors got wind of the proposed expansion they sent angry letters to the Planning Commission in opposition expressing concerns about safety and possible declines in property values. Today, the Planning Commission heard comments both in favor of and against the proposal. They ultimately  voted in favor of the proposal and the final decision will be made tonight at the City Council meeting.

Helen Hardiman, HOME’s Director of Fair Housing, spoke in favor of the proposal and called attention to the possible Fair Housing implications if the Planning Commission were to deny the proposal. Should a Planning Commission or City Council make a decision which makes housing unavailable for a person or group of people because of their membership in a protected class, that Commission or Council has violated the Fair Housing Act. Many of the comments against the proposed expansion of the New Clay House were based on stereotypes about people with disabilities.

Morgan Barker, HOME’s Fair Housing Specialist, spoke in favor of the proposal but as a private resident of Carver. Below are her comments:

“Good afternoon Mr. Chair and members of the Planning Commission, thank you for giving me the chance to speak to you about Virginia Supportive Housing’s proposed project at the New Clay House in Carver.

My name is Morgan Barker. I have been a resident of the Carver neighborhood since August of 2014. I live on the 1400 block of Leigh Street in a duplex with two roommates, both of whom are young women like me. Next to us are young working men, and on the other side are VCU students. A few doors down on either side are families with young children. On the corner next to the Kroger is a rooming house. The New Clay House is about four or five blocks away. The neighborhood is a mix of renters, owners, families, single people, young people, old people, the list goes on. I have trust in my neighbors and my neighborhood as a whole. I’ve never felt unsafe though I have walked or biked around at all times of the day and night. I specifically chose to live in this neighborhood because it’s diverse, close to everything I need, and more affordable than other neighborhoods in the city.

In a city severely lacking in affordable and accessible housing, any addition of affordable and accessible housing, especially an addition that will be managed by a reputable provider like Virginia Supportive Housing, should be welcomed and praised. Carver is a great neighborhood for a project like this because it is in close proximity to a Kroger, the bus line, and other services. Additionally, Carver is a mixed income community. Much of the affordable and accessible housing in the city is in food deserts, areas with a high concentration of poverty, and far away from necessary services.

There is no reason to believe that the proposed plan for the New Clay House would be a detriment to the neighborhood. The New Clay House has been a part of the neighborhood longer than most current residents and the neighborhood has thrived with it in it’s midst. This addition would be an asset for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. Virginia Supportive Housing provides a necessary service to the city by providing participants with a path towards stabilization and success. This project would add to their capacity and ensure success for even more members of the city.

The best part about Carver is the diversity of residents, take away this project and you ensure that this neighborhood will become ever more homogenous. As a resident, that is not what I want to see. I hope you will approve this proposal. “

Disparate Impact: What in the world does that mean and why should I care?

Prosperity-Disp-Impact

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a landmark case on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 and yet little know what the words ‘disparate impact’ mean or how greatly this decision will affect them and fair housing in every community.

Disparate Impact is a legal doctrine under the Fair Housing Act which means that a policy or practice may be considered discriminatory if it has a disproportionate “adverse impact” against any group based on race, national origin, color, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

Wait, What?

Disparate impact theory safeguards the right to a fair shot for everyone.

Why Does It Matter?

Where you live determines where you work and how you get there, your access to healthcare, and the school your child attends. Unfortunately, policies and practices still exist that – intentionally or unintentionally – keep some people out of housing they can afford simply because of who they are. While we have made great strides in advancing fairness in the housing sector, segregation persists and there is still more work to be done. Everyone benefits from a housing market free from discrimination where the full participation of all Americans is possible. Additionally, from a business standpoint the disparate impact theory helps us maintain open markets free from discrimination – a critical component to the prosperity of America’s future. Discrimination disrupts our economy, causing inefficiency and instability by constraining the full economic participation of all hard-working Americans.

Can you explain by example?

An apartment complex only allows people with full-time jobs. This bars disabled veterans and other people with disabilities who may not be able to work full-time, even though they can afford the apartment. The complex could instead consider all income to assess someone’s ability to afford rent.

A city decides to prohibit all housing that would be affordable to working-class people, and that has the effect of excluding most or all people of color in that region. If the city cannot show a valid reason for its policy, or if a more fair and effective alternative is available, then the policy would have to be set aside under the disparate impact approach.

A lender has a policy of allowing its loan officers to overcharge consumers at the loan officer’s discretion. The result is that women are charged higher prices than their male counterparts—even though both have the same credit profiles. In a case like this, the lender would have to abandon the discretionary pricing policy and take steps to insure that women are not over-charged for lending products and services.

Ok, I know understand. What can I do about this?

You can make noise by:

  • Sharing this blog so more people understand
  • Share our Facebook post and re-tweet our tweets with hashtag #KeepHousingFair
  • Join us in DC on Wednesday, January 21, from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. as we rally to Keep Housing Fair at the S. Supreme Court

Disp-Impact-Flyer-Twitter-final-draft-corrected

Here is some more explanation and history on this case from the Shelterforce blog.

 

Letter to the Editor Concerning the Prevention of Saint Paul’s College from Providing Refuge

The following letter to the editor was published in the Richmond Times Dispatch on June 29, 2014.

The recent decisions to prevent the private Saint Paul’s College from providing refuge to 500 unaccompanied immigrant children at their vacant campus, as well as the general angst about immigration in our region is very concerning.  Immigration and providing refuge those escaping violence and hardship is a hallmark American value for which we should all be proud.  Immigration generally is important to our culture, economy, and moral foundation.

It is important that new arrivals have housing choice.  The Fair Housing Act of 1968 acknowledges this. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq.,  prohibits discrimination by housing providers, including municipalities, whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons on account of race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.

Every person in the United States is protected by the Fair Housing Act regardless of their immigration status.   This is well established law.  In past years, the U.S. Justice Department has taken enforcement action against municipalities that have attempted to reduce or limit the number of Hispanic families that live in their communities.

Statements reported in recent news media made by some Brunswick officials such as, “There is this negative perception of gang violence – these people are coming from Central America”[1] indicate that officials may be attempting to deny these children access to housing on account of their nationality.  Municipalities such as Brunswick County have an additional duty to “affirmatively further fair housing” by virtue of their receipt of federal Community Development Block Grant funding.  We believe that making housing unavailable based on national origin may violate this obligation.

Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) is the only statewide fair housing organization in Virginia.  HOME’s mission is to ensure equal access to housing for all people.  HOME works to tackle systemically divisive housing practices on a larger scale through fair housing enforcement and research, advocacy, and statewide policy work.   We encourage municipalities and housing providers to reflect on the Fair Housing Act, and its requirements that prohibit making housing opportunities unavailable based on national origin.  We welcome further discussion.

Heather Mullins Crislip
President and CEO
Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME)

The Monster in the Closet

Recently, the news has been consumed by coverage of Donald Sterling’s racist comments caught on tape and the NBA’s swift and decisive condemnation. This seems to denote a turning point in race relations in the United States. We’re tempted to declare that the Civil Rights Movement has been a success, open racism is no longer acceptable, we’ve won! And it’s true, overt racism is frowned upon today and few proudly proclaim their racist ideals anymore. Even the Ku Klux Klan no longer claims to be an “enemy” to minorities (but they aren’t particularly friendly, either).[i] Yet, in 2003 when Donald Sterling was accused of housing discrimination against current and prospective tenants in his apartment complexes, nobody batted an eye. This accusation has only resurfaced to be used as one more piece of evidence to prove that his recorded remarks were made with racist intent. To me, this proves that open expressions of racism and being perceived by the public as a racist are undesirable in America, but policies and practices with racist effects, as long as they are hard to see, are somehow acceptable. America is not post-racial, our country continues to rest upon invisible and systemic racism, but we make ourselves feel better about it by condemning those who make their racism known.

Possibly the best thing to come out of this Sterling controversy is a great article at CNN from Rinku Sen, the publisher at Colorlines.com and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. In the article, Sen identifies three things that need to be done in order to achieve racial equity: “talk explicitly about race; focus on the impact of policies and practices and the intention behind them; and support power-building in marginalized communities.”[ii] So far, none of these things are happening on a regular or highly effective basis at the national level. They are, however, happening at the local and regional level, and with much success. Sen goes on to detail a few instances in which groups have explicitly looked at the racial impact of policies and practices, which might on the surface seem benign, and made changes which had positive impacts for racial equality.

I’d like to continue what Sen started with a discussion of HOME and the ways we try to combat racism using Sen’s framework. HOME has been engaged in ensuring equal access to housing for all people since 1971. We’ve always had a focus on combating racism, as this is one of the biggest barriers to fair housing. We work both at the individual and the systemic level and the examples I’m about to give have to do with both internal efforts amongst staff as well as our external programs.

  1. Talk explicitly about race: In February of this year, HOME had an intentional staff-wide discussion of racism and white privilege. We spoke about the ways we as individuals and as an organization experience and confront racism in our daily lives and work. We challenged each other to use white privilege, if we have it, to confront and disrupt racism when we see it. Additionally, we decided that as an organization we need to do a better job of not only confronting racism but being real about the ways it influences us as an organization both internally and externally. As a result of this discussion, we’ve begun to set aside intentional times to engage openly and honestly with one another about racism and inequality once a week during what we call “Brown Bag Lunches.” Racism informs our work, in fact, it drives much of it. We have committed to the ongoing process of talking intentionally and explicitly about racism and inequality so that we can clearly name it and interrupt it when we see it.
  1. Focus on the impact of policies and practices and the intention behind them: As an organization with a specific emphasis on research and advocacy, HOME regularly engages in identifying and investigating the racial impact of state and local policies as well as policies of private companies. Our interest is in the ways these policies and practices impact access to housing and the credit to obtain housing. We regularly investigate the policies and practices of private and public entities within the housing industry and conduct independent research such as our recent project, “Mapping RVA: Where You Live Makes All the Difference.” These research endeavors are then used to change the practices and policies of the participants and serve as valuable educational tools for others who are interested in making better policies for the future.
  1. Support power-building in marginalized communities: Finally, we empower low-to-moderate income families in the Richmond Metro Region to take advantage of the opportunity to build wealth by purchasing their first home. 84% of these families are minorities. None of them could have purchased a home when they did without the support of HOME’s program for first-time homebuyers. Owning a home is one of the best ways to provide not only economic but social stability for a family and the larger community. A low rate of homeownership among minority groups in the U.S. is one of the biggest contributing factors to the wealth gap between whites and minorities. By providing low-to-moderate income families with the opportunity to become homeowners, HOME strengthens minority communities and enables these families to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.

America is not post racial. Racism permeates every facet of society because our society has not learned to confront or even effectively talk about racism and the ways it works in our world. This stops us from reaching our highest potential as a nation.

Yes, it is something to be excited about that someone with as much power as Donald Sterling can lose it all with an ill-timed racist remark, but invisible, systemic racism abounds in our society and we are letting it happen. Rinku Sen and I have given you a few examples of ways people are working to eliminate this proverbial monster in the closet, but it can’t be completed without a visible and systemic effort at the individual, local, regional, state and national levels. We have to condemn the covert as well as the overt acts of racism. All the anger and indignation over Donald Sterling will mean nothing if people are still denied full membership in society simply because of who they are.

 

 

 

[i] http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/chesterfield/chesterfield-residents-receive-kkk-fliers/article_ed60e60e-78ec-55f4-a6ef-0d579292069f.html

[ii] http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/07/living/race-sterling-identity/

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Morgan Barker is serving with AmeriCorps VISTA at HOME. She is a Richmond native with a passion for social justice.

Happy Fair Housing Month!

April has been designated Fair Housing Month as a way of honoring and celebrating the Fair Housing Act and the many people who dedicated their passion to bringing it into law. Most notably, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a champion of Fair Housing. At the urging of President Lyndon Johnson, the Act was passed in MLK’s honor days after his assassination in 1968. The Fair Housing Act is no less significant today than it was when it was passed in ’68.

This is a law that required not only high level paradigm shifts but also rests heavily on individuals to not only make choices to comply with the law, but to make strong choices when confronted with injustice. Fair Housing claims cannot be brought without the participation of wronged individuals but most importantly without volunteers who assist in collecting evidence. Fair Housing has always relied on grassroots initiatives holding institutions accountable.

The Chicago Freedom Movement was an alliance of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations led by Martin Luther King, Jr. to protest the segregation of the city as enforced by Chicago realtors who were steering African American clients into certain parts of the city. In Richmond, too, grassroots organizations of community activists were what really started the ball rolling towards neighborhood integration. One such organization was the Carillon Civic Association which formed to protest and counter discriminatory practices by real estate agents in their neighborhood. By 1971, they were successful in ending discriminatory advertising for houses in their neighborhood. Members of the Carillon Civic Association were also influential in HOME’s early years.

Their legacy continues today as HOME relies heavily on the support of individuals in the community who bring our attention to instances of discrimination or volunteer their time to help us uncover and document discrimination. Now that the Fair Housing Act exists, it is up to all of us to ensure that its promise holds true for all of us. This requires us to be diligent in our observations of housing transactions, advertisements, and market trends. We cannot do this work without grassroots support and energy to be our “eyes and ears.”

The Fair Housing Act has an intimate affect on our lives. It has a direct effect on where we are able to live and who is able to live near us. Not only is each one of us protected but each one of us has the responsibility to ensure that our neighborhoods are open and welcoming to all.

We can all be fair housing heroes.

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Morgan Barker is serving with AmeriCorps VISTA at HOME. She is a Richmond native with a passion for social justice.