Equal Housing Opportunities in
New York: An Evaluation of
Section 8 Housing Programs in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse
Oversight of Local Housing Authorities
Local housing authorities (HAs) are monitored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, which is under the supervision of HUD’s Office of Program Standards and Evaluation. Both of these offices provide checks and balances to the local HA’s authority and discretion in administering the Section 8 program. In order to gain a better understanding of the extent to which HUD requires public housing administrators to affirmatively further fair housing, the Committee heard presentations by HUD officials from the Washington, D.C., headquarters and the Buffalo Regional Office.
Larry Pearl, Director, Office of Program Standards and Evaluation, HUD, Washington
Every municipality receiving Section 8 housing funds must prepare an “action plan” that will be monitored by HUD. These action plans must lay out ways to address the impediments identified in an “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing,” which must also be prepared by each community receiving HUD funds. The analysis of impediments document itself is not submitted to HUD, although the document is used if there is a complaint raised and for routine monitoring.1
If planned actions are inappropriate to meet the stated impediments, HUD will question the HA.2 Mr. Pearl noted that the action might be appropriate, but its implementation time-consuming and said HUD does not expect all actions to be taken immediately. “Some are easier to take than others, but if, after a certain period of time, an action has been identified but not taken, then it seems that the Department would have to say, okay, what’s going on here?”3
On the other hand, the action might not successfully remove the impediment and the Department will then consider alternative or additional steps. HUD is currently reviewing regulations to strengthen its authority to question communities in such situations.
HUD has challenged the fair housing certifications of two communities outside of New York State and has held up money in those communities until they completed their impediment studies. According to Mr. Pearl, “That’s two out of a thousand, admittedly a very small percentage, but we feel that it’s a start, and we are looking at a number of other situations, and are telling communities in advance of submitting their action plans that we believe they may have a problem.”4
In response to a query about HUD’s affirmative efforts on desegregation in the Section 8 program, Mr. Pearl stressed the need for mobility programs to address residential segregation. First, he referred to a study HUD commissioned in May 1996 identifying where Section 8 recipients live nationwide. The study found that African American and Hispanic Section 8 recipients are much more likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods than are white recipients. Twenty-five percent of blacks and 18 percent of Hispanics live in neighborhoods that are more than 30 percent poor, compared with only 8 percent of whites. Correspondingly, 53 percent of white Section 8 recipients live in low-poverty neighborhoods, compared with only 28 percent of blacks and 40 percent of Hispanics.
In addition, 15 percent of African American recipients live in tracts that are more than 85 percent black, while no white or Hispanic recipients live in such predominantly black tracks. Mr. Pearl said, “[HUD] didn’t find these findings surprising, but it suggests the dimension of the problem in terms of dealing with those disparities.”5
Secondly, he stressed the importance of mobility programs, also known as mobility counseling or opportunity counseling, which provide Section 8 recipients a full range of housing counseling on topics such as where the certificate can be used, surrounding neighborhoods and how to get to them, and information about schools, churches, and public transportation. In addition, the program provides followup after they have moved. Mr. Pearl praised these programs as “giving people an idea of what’s out there,” and added: “ we do know that many people who have lived in the cities all their lives, to them, suburban jurisdictions are just names. They have no meaning. They don’t know where they are. They wouldn’t know how to get to them.”6 Mr. Pearl gave an example of how comprehensive and effective mobility counseling can be and how important followup counseling is:
In the L.A. program, for example, a woman—a Latino woman moved into the suburbs, into the San Fernando Valley, and had some trouble registering her child in school . . . I believe it was kindergarten, and she shared that with her counselor, and the counselor took it upon herself to go out and in effect, test the school. The counselor, who happened to be white Anglo, went out and said, “I need to register my child” and had absolutely no problem at all...and finding that disparity then went to the principal and said, “I think you have a problem.” Not every counselor would take the time or effort to do that kind of thing, but that’s the kind of committed work they do for their clients.7
The other goal of mobility programs is to get more landlords to participate in the Section 8 program. Mr. Pearl said, “You really have to deal with both the demand and the supply, and since the supply is limited to low-poverty areas, that’s another difficulty.8 Therefore recruiting landlords in a variety of areas, including areas with low-poverty and low-minority concentration is necessary. He said:
One of the things that made the administering agency for the Gautreaux program in Chicago so successful was the credibility that they built up with landlords over time. The idea was that when they referred tenants that the landlords would know that the tenants had been screened to a degree, and that they were getting tenants who would have good credit—and could meet the requirements of tenancy. Credibility, of course, takes time to build up.9
Under its obligation to administer all programs in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing under title VIII, HUD has used title VIII in its litigation against landlords. But Mr. Pearl said, “Outside the litigation context, we haven’t chosen to do the same as we have with litigation.” When asked why the Department has chosen not to invoke title VIII to require HAs to affirmatively further fair housing, Mr. Pearl responded, “That’s a dispute within the Department. We have simply not decided that that is necessary to go forward.”10
Charles Martin, Director, Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, HUD, Buffalo
In October 1995, HUD adopted a Conforming Rule to consolidate administratively the Section 8 certificate and voucher programs to the maximum extent allowed without new legislation, and generally to simplify administration of the Section 8 program.11 As a result of this change, the Equal Opportunity Housing Plan requirement in the prior Section 8 regulations was replaced with a new requirement.12
Under the old procedure the Department would review and approve the HA’s Equal Opportunity Housing Plan and Administrative Plan which contained objectives to ensure nondiscrimination. Now, under the Conforming Rule, only the Administrative Plan is submitted. The Equal Opportunity Housing Plan contained four objectives used by housing agencies to ensure nondiscrimination within the Section 8 program. These four objectives were transferred to the Administrative Plan.13
The first objective called for HAs to identify how they were going to conduct outreach to low-income families, including what newspaper or other media would be used. The HAs also had to identify within that particular objective if there were any groups that they considered least likely to participate in the program, and if so, whether they had identified some special outreach to make sure that those particular groups were brought into the program.
The second objective was to promote greater housing opportunities outside of the low-income and minority-concentrated areas. In this particular objective, HAs were again required to identify what media they were using to market Section 8 information to the general public, homeowners, and landlords. Also, they were required to show how they were encouraging landlords to participate in the program.
The methods for encouraging landlords to participate in the Section 8 program included meetings with landlords, printing information about the Section 8 program, and providing literature and brochures, etc., as well as explanations regarding the administrative and civil rights requirements of the program.
The HAs were also required to provide briefing packages to all Section 8 recipients. In that package, the HA provided recipients documentation on civil rights, information about available housing, and a list of the landlords participating in the program. If they had problems locating suitable units, the HA was to provide assistance.
The HAs also provided recipients with information pertaining to the geographic use of the certificates. If there was a portability application, as with certificates, recipients were to be told that they had a right to go anywhere, and that if there were some restrictions on the application, the HA would have to notify the recipient whether it was restricted to a certain area.
The third objective dealt with ensuring equal opportunity for applicants to participate in the program. This objective focused on the administration of the program, i.e., how the HA actually accepts applications; whether it would accept an application; how it processes applications; how it establishes the waiting list; and how it uses Federal preference or priority categories.
Objective four dealt with whether or not the HA subcontracted out to a local fair housing organization or community organization that provided services to disabled individuals to perform certain services that HAs were not capable of performing.
Under the new rules, HAs are notified by HUD that these four requirements are still part of their contract. “In fact,” said Mr. Martin, “the regs [regulations] state the responsibility of the housing authority and specifically list the first three objectives that were listed in the old equal opportunity housing plan.”14
The new Administrative Plan is used by HUD as a tool to determine how well the housing agency is running the program and in monitoring the HAs. The monitoring, known as recordkeeping, consists of:
looking at the records to see if they advertised in the Buffalo Evening News, if they advertised in the West Side Journal. We will want to see if they advertised in those journals, the dates they advertised, and to see if they had contact to special community organizations. We would check to see if they contacted those community organizations. What efforts they did to encourage landlords to come to participate in the program, if they did any special outreach to them.15
Mr. Martin explained the procedures if they discover objectives that are not being carried out:
We discuss the findings at the exit interview with the executive director to let them know of our concerns. We then come back and write them a letter. We give them X number of days to take corrective actions to begin either to implement something that they have said that they were going to do in their administrative plan or give us some justification as to why not, and then we will review that information and make a determination whether we feel that they have met compliance, and if we feel that they are not in compliance, they are then referred to our compliance division who go out and make a determination of compliance or noncompliance.16
1 Larry Pearl, statement before the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, factfinding meeting, Buffalo, NY, Dec. 12, 1996, transcript, p.145 (hereafter cited as Buffalo Transcript).
2 “In other words, if the action to address the impediment simply doesn’t make any sense, such as there’s a problem of getting credit to the minority community, and the solution is let’s have lunch with the bankers. That’s not going to do it.” Ibid.
4 Ibid., p. 146.
5 Ibid., p. 148.
6 Ibid., p. 152.
7 Ibid., p. 157.
8 Ibid., p. 153.
9 Ibid., p. 162.
10 Ibid., p. 167. See 24 C.F.R. § 982.4 (1997).
11 See 60 Fed. Reg. 34660–729 (1995).
12 24 C.F.R.§ 882.204(b)(1) and § 887.59 (1994).
13 Martin statement, Buffalo Transcript, p. 184.
15 Ibid., p. 186.
16 Ibid., p. 187.