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Tags: neighborhoods | suburbia | westchester

Biden's Zoning Plan Won't End Housing Discrimination

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(Yee Xin Tan/Dreamstime)

Steve Levy By Thursday, 06 August 2020 09:54 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

There is no doubt that there is still a great deal of racial discrimination existing in the nation’s housing industry, but the Obama-Biden remedy of forcing high density housing in the suburbs, coupled with an evisceration of local zoning powers, is not the answer.

There is a better way — strengthen laws to discipline realtors who practice redlining, the deliberate steering of minorities away from white areas.

The Obama-Biden effort to re-engineer the concept of suburbia was front and center in the heavy-handed pressure it levied against the suburban county of Westchester, near New York City.

In this action against the county, originally filed in 2006 by a non profit housing group, Obama's team put into action its earlier developed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation, which redefined the term racism from an affirmative act that denies minority individuals the right to live in a house they can afford, to a situation where a county is determined to be carrying out racist policies simply because a specific number of minorities are not living in a certain area.

Despite the fact that Westchester’s demographics mirror the nation as a whole — 22 % Hispanic and 13% Black — the feds backed the non profit’s assertion that the county was discriminating by the mere fact that white areas did not have a high enough percentage of minorities living there.

The county’s retort that this had more to do with affordability than affirmative racial discrimination was not given credence. 

Under a Biden administration, it is likely that regulations will be pursued whereby Washington will be dictating to local towns how much, and where, high density housing will be required to be constructed within their environs.

People move to the suburbs not just for safer neighborhoods and better schools, but also because they want more parks, less traffic and more planned, aesthetic community settings. That holds true for people of any race. it would be a tragedy to destroy what is one of the most basic elements of Americana.

On the other hand, there can be little doubt that racism has been at the core of denying millions of minorities the opportunity to live in a house they could afford, simply because realtors refused to show them the property.

In fact, the nation’s first suburb on Long Island, developed by William Levitt in a town bearing his name (Levittown) was marred by the fact that Levitt’s contracts of sale contained a clause prohibiting the sale of his homes to non-white purchasers. A more definitive example of racism is hard to find.

Those type of provisions were made illegal over the years, but it didn’t stop segregation. In fact, Long Island remains one of the most segregated communities in the nation. This is in part due to the fact that realtors steer potential buyers to different communities depending on their race.

Many realtors believe, falsely most of the time, that blacks want to be steered to black communities because they’ll feel more comfortable there. Others don’t want to experience the backlash from their white clients — who in turn may fear backlash from neighbors - for selling to a minority. Either way, it’s morally wrong, and it’s illegal.

In a speech I gave a decade ago as Suffolk County executive, I expressed my goal that one day someone named Diaz, Mohammed, Wang or Shenequa could live wherever their finances led them. (As a side note, the moronic liberal media in my area actually claimed that my anti-racism speech was itself racist because I used the name Shenequa. I kid you not.)

After that speech, I introduced bills to strengthen our Human Rights Commission to tackle the problem. Little impact was effectuated at the local level.

But just this past week, the state legislature — the entity with the real power to make a marked difference — passed legislation that will authorize its agencies to suspend and/or revoke realty licenses from those caught in the act of redlining.

A recent investigation on Long Island proved just how easy it was to catch those engaging in racial steering.

Fully one quarter of the realtors approached by white and minority potential purchasers of equal financial means treated the two differently. Whites saw houses in the communities of their choice, while blacks were encouraged to look in non-white areas. 

The investigative report led to a series of bills on the local and state levels to attack the problem. Funding for more sting investigations. Extra staffing at the Human Rights Division. More data collection. More education programs for realtors.

All are positive steps, but it is the new law that threatens license revocation that’s the real games changer. It’s likely to be a very effective deterrent to redlining.

Moreover, it is a far more palatable and direct way to address racial steering without evicertaing the whole concept of local zoning, which has been the underpinning of our American suburbs.

Steve Levy, former New York state assemblyman, Suffolk County executive, and candidate for governor, is now a distinguished political pundit. Levy's commentary has been published in such media outlets as Washington Times, Washington Examiner, New York Post, Albany Times, Long Island Business News, and City & State Magazine. He hosted "The Steve Levy Radio Show" on Long Island News Radio, and is a frequent guest on high profile television and radio outlets. Few on the political scene possess Levy's diverse background. He's been both a legislator and executive, and served on both the state and local levels — as both a Democrat and Republican. Levy published "Bias in the Media," an analysis of his own experience, after switching parties, with the media's leftward slant. Levy is currently Executive Director of the Center for Cost Effective Government, a fiscally conservative think tank. He is also President of Common Sense Strategies, a political consulting firm. To learn more about his past work and upcoming appearances, visit www.stevelevy.info. Read Steve Levy's Reports — More Here.

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The Obama-Biden effort to re-engineer the concept of suburbia was front and center in the heavy-handed pressure it levied against the suburban county of Westchester, near New York City.
neighborhoods, suburbia, westchester
Thursday, 06 August 2020 09:54 AM
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