Opportunities in New York: An Evaluation of
Section 8 Housing Programs in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse
Today American neighborhoods remain deeply segregated on the basis of race and ethnicity. A disproportionate number of black and Hispanic Americans still live in inner-city neighborhoods that are predominantly black or Hispanic, while most white Americans live in neighborhoods that are predominantly or exclusively white.1
The persistence of residential segregation in America’s metropolitan areas has serious and far-reaching consequences. Fewer economic opportunities, inferior educational facilities, and perpetuation of racial and ethnic prejudices are three of these consequences. Residential segregation limits the ability of minority families to move to neighborhoods where opportunities for economic and social mobility are greater. Recent evidence indicates that economic opportunities are expanding faster in the suburbs than in central cities, where most black and Hispanic neighborhoods are located.2
In New York State, the disparity in educational opportunities for urban minorities is pronounced. According to the 1997 State Education Department report to the Governor and legislature, “high-minority schools . . . have the least experienced teachers, the most uncertified teachers, the lowest salaried teachers, and the highest rates of teacher turnover.”3 Moreover, the absentee rate for high-minority schools is nearly three times that of low-minority schools, and “only 54.1 percent of the third graders in high-minority schools, compared to 92.5 percent in low-minority schools, are making satisfactory progress in reading.”4
Where one lives determines which school district one’s children can attend, and more than 82 percent of the State’s minority students attend school in 1 of only 5 of the State’s nearly 700 school districts. Three of those five districts are the Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse school districts—the three metropolitan areas examined in this study of Section 8 housing programs.5
The geographic isolation of blacks and Hispanics minimizes opportunities for interaction among racial and ethnic groups, and consequently may perpetuate racial and ethnic prejudice.6 Thus housing segregation warrants public attention and policy intervention not only because it limits residential mobility and choice, but because it bars opportunities for the social and economic advancement of minorities, thereby contributing to the persistence of economic inequality.
The New York Advisory Committee became aware through incidents brought to their attention, recent court cases, and through personal observations and experiences, that minorities and other protected classes faced barriers, including discrimination in federally funded Section 8 housing programs. As a result, in May 1996, the Committee initiated a project titled “Equal Housing Opportunities in New York: An Evaluation of Section 8 Housing Programs in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse.”
The Section 8 program was chosen as the focus of this study in part because Congress mandated in 1974 that the more than $5 billion spent annually on the Section 8 program be administered in a way that promotes fair housing7 (like all HUD programs), and in part because of the enormous potential for the Section 8 program to move minority families into areas of low-poverty concentration and greater economic opportunities.
The Advisory Committee’s goals for this project were the following:
First, to determine whether minorities, female heads of households, and people with disabilities have equal access to and participation in Section 8 programs, and what barriers, including discrimination they may face when trying to use their voucher or certificate.
Second, to review whether selected administrative regulations or practices on the part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the local public housing authorities limit the opportunities of these persons applying to Section 8 programs, or their use of Section 8 certificates and vouchers.
Third, to examine the quality and quantity of available rental property, where it is located, and the accessibility to transportation and availability of jobs.
In order to gain as full a comprehension of the topic as possible, the Advisory Committee invited leading experts in the field of Section 8 housing, including Federal and local administrators, advocates, academics, as well as Section 8 recipients to the factfinding meetings. Meetings were held in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, and the results of those meetings along with additional research, interviews, and background information have been compiled to form this report.
The report is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter discusses the legislative and judicial history of the Section 8 program, how and why it came into existence, and reviews the major court cases that have shaped its development. Also included in this section is a discussion of the different types of Section 8 subsidies, who is eligible, and how the subsidies are administered on the local level.
The second chapter, Barriers to Fair Housing, discusses a hypothetical situation of a Section 8 recipient and the barriers, including discrimination, that might be encountered when using a subsidy. This section also explains several of those barriers, dividing them into administrative and nonadministrative categories. Administrative barriers include residency requirements, the withholding of rental lists, and failure to implement HUD’s mandate to affirmatively further fair housing. Nonadministrative barriers include lack of transportation, limited knowledge of housing options, and community attitudes.
The third chapter, Oversight of Local Housing Authorities, looks into the supervision and monitoring by HUD’s Office of Fair Housing of local housing authorities and further discusses HUD’s mandate to housing authorities of their affirmative duty to promote housing desegregation in the Section 8 program.
This fourth chapter discusses recent changes to the Section 8 program, such as increasing the amount of security deposits recipients must pay, allowing landlords to reject some Section 8 recipients, and making it easier to evict tenants for just cause.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, respectively, are the three cities where the Advisory Committee held factfinding meetings. Each city chapter begins with the racial makeup of the area and the distribution of Section 8 recipients between the city and the suburbs. The sections then focus on the local Section 8 issues facing those particular metropolitan areas. Common issues include (1) lack of access to rental information, (2) residency requirements and preferences, and (3) poor public transportation.
The eighth and final chapter is composed of Findings and Recommendations. In this section the Advisory Committee brings together what it learned and proposes corrective recommendations.
1 Across the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country, 37 percent of blacks lived in neighborhoods isolated from whites. M. A. Turner, Discrimination in Urban Housing Markets: Lessons from Fair Housing Audits (The Urban Institute, 1992) (hereafter cited as Turner). Not only do a disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics live in segregated neighborhoods, most live in central-city jurisdictions. Between 1970 and 1990, the number of people living in concentrated poverty areas (neighborhoods in which over 40 percent of the residents are poor) grew from 3.8 million to 10.4 million. In these neighborhoods: more than 60 percent of families with children are headed by single women; more than half of all adults have less than a high school education; more than 40 percent of working-age men are unemployed; almost one in five youths (aged 16–19) are high school dropouts; and one in three families receive welfare benefits.
2 Turner, p. 19.
3 New York State Education Department, The State of Learning: A Report to the Governor and the Legislature on the Educational Status of the State’s Schools, (Albany, NY, 1997), p. vi (hereafter cited as State of Learning, 1997).
5 Statistics computed from data in The State of Learning, 1997.
6 Turner, p. 30.
7 42 U.S.C. § 3608(e)(5).