Housing Opportunities Made Equal recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of working for equal opportunity in housing. The shame is that after that half-century, HOME remains necessary as a bridge to fair housing for many in the Buffalo Niagara region.
The organization got its start in 1963 with clergy from the Buffalo Area Council of Churches concerned about pervasive housing discrimination in the region. Yet, Buffalo Niagara remains the sixth most racially segregated metropolitan area in the nation.
There are measures by which Buffalo strives to reach top 10 status, but this surely should not be one of them.
In the 1980s the organization helped desegregate the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. At the time, nine of the BMHA’s 27 residential developments were 90 percent African-American or Hispanic. Nine others were 92 percent or more white.
In recent years the organization has been fighting for the local nonprofit, People Inc., in its quest to site a senior housing development in Orchard Park. The situation three years ago involved such questionable moments as town officials asking for the ZIP codes of residents of similar projects, apparently to keep the wrong sort of person out of Orchard Park. The case is still pending with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But why, in 2013, the issue of housing discrimination still looms is the question.
ProPublica, the New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to investigative journalism, found fault by the federal government, which it says has largely failed when it comes to housing discrimination. HUD, it found, does not test to see if landlords and banks may be violating the law. And most discrimination goes unpunished.
Congressman Al Green, a Texas Democrat, introduced a bill back in January – his fourth time doing so – to fund a national program to test for housing discrimination. It’s called the Veterans, Women, Families with Children, Race and Persons with Disabilities Housing Fairness Act. It should be supported.
When longtime HOME Executive Director Scott Gehl talks to people, he says, “We have a segregated system that was constructed, in large part, by government actions rather than individual acts of prejudice and discrimination. Consequently, it will require concerted public policy to end that segregation.”
The law says we should act affirmatively to further fair housing opportunities, particularly for communities receiving federal assistance. And yet that doesn’t happen. Housing discrimination should have ended decades ago. That it still persists is a disgrace.