Westchester County & Source of Income Legislation

August 5, 2012

A modest article published in the August 4, 2012 issue of The Journal News provides some continuing details on the apparent impasse between Westchester County Executive Astorino and HUD on the need for “source of income legislation” in relation to the 2009 settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The terms of the settlement require Westchester County to take several steps to break down the effects of housing discrimination, including building 750 units of affordable housing in mostly white communities and marketing those units in areas with largely non-white populations. At the time of the settlement, the County also agreed to “promote” source-of-income legislation. The definition of promote has been and continues to be a “sticky wicket” in the discussions.

Here is a link to the article:

http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012308040029&nclick_check=1

Opinion

As a taxpayer in Westchester County, I am very puzzled as to how this constant bickering can possibly be productive. I am further concerned that the continuing obfuscation detracts from the ability of our County government to do the work of the people, and further, is wasting precious County resources on legal costs and other unnecessary expenditures.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits credit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or source of income.

Housing Choice Vouchers (a.k.a. ‘Section 8’) are generally and widely accepted as a legitimate and stable source of income for housing purposes.

The great majority of people I’ve met who are eligible to receive Housing Choice Vouchers are people of good will who just want a decent and safe place to live and raise their children (or, in some cases, grandchildren) and to be able to feel confident their children have the same opportunity for a ‘free and appropriate public school education’ as other children in nearby neighborhoods and/or towns.

Landlords can most effectively screen potential tenants by: (1) employing a standard and uniform application; (2) run a credit report; (3) check references; and (4) verify income sources.

Using a consistent decision-making process for any prospective tenant is considered a “best practice” by a number of sources, including www.Landlord.com

Background & Definitions

The housing choice voucher program (often called “Section 8”) is a national program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are free to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects. A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family’s choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety, as determined by the PHA. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

Under certain circumstances, if authorized by the PHA, a family may use its voucher to purchase a modest home.

Source of Income Legislation in this context would cause “Source of Income” to become a protected class under Westchester’s Fair Housing Law, and would include any legal, verifiable income derived from social security, or any form of federal, state or local public assistance or housing assistance, including Housing Choice Vouchers.

Disparate impact is a legal concept used to describe situations where an apparently neutral practice has an unexpected or unjustified adverse impact on members of a protected class. Typically, a plaintiff must prove that the challenged practice or selection device has a substantial adverse impact on a protected group. Generally, this proof is offered through statistical comparisons.

Protected classes in the sale and rental of housing (as defined by the Federal Fair Housing Act) include: (a) race; (b) color; (c) national origin; (d) religion; (e) sex; (f) familial status; or (g) handicap.

Some clear and obvious examples of discrimination illustrated on HUD’s website include:
• Refusal to rent or sell housing;
• Refusal to negotiate for housing;
• Make housing unavailable;
• Deny a dwelling;
• Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling;
• Provide different housing services or facilities;
• Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental;
• For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting); or
• Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

Note: The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In some circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

Selected Census Demographics for Westchester County

Westchester County is a county located in the U.S. state of New York. Westchester covers an area of 450 square miles and — according to the 2010 Census — has a population of 949,113 residing in 45 municipalities. A quick review of some demographics captured in the Census reveals:
• Median Household Income: $79,619
• % of Persons living at or below Poverty Level: 8.2%
• % Persons under 18 years: 23.6%
• % Persons over 65 years: 14.8%
• % White, not Hispanic: 56.9%
• % Black or African American: 14.8%
• % Hispanic or Latino Origin:  22.4%

Housing Choice Voucher recipients in Westchester County have a much different profile than residents of the County overall. Based on data submitted to HUD from PHAs in Westchester which administer these vouchers (Form HUD-50058) for the period 4/01/2011 through 7/31/2012 , the voucher recipients are:
• Average Annual Income:  $20,236
• % of Persons living at or below Poverty Level:  Not Available
• % Persons under 18 years:  27.0%
• % Persons over 62 years:  29.0%
• % White, not Hispanic:  48.0%
• % Black or African American:  50.0%
• % Hispanic or Latino Origin:   34.0%

Conclusion(s)

There seems to be sufficient evidence to warrant a statistical analysis to measure the probability that inaction by Westchester County on Source of Income Legislation has exacerbated disparate treatment of individuals protected under the Fair Housing Act and other protections guaranteed in the laws of our land.

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