Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America

By Desmond S. King; Rogers M. Smith | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
To “affirmatively further fair housing”
Enduring Racial Inequalities in
American Homes and Mortgages

Even as America’s first black president moved into the White House, controversies over race and housing abounded in what many wished to be a “postracial” country.1 In August 2009, one of the nation’s most affluent counties, Westchester, New York, acceded to a housing agreement with a nonprofit advocacy group, the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, brokered by Obama officials in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Justice Department. In February 2009, U.S. District Court judge Denise Cote, a Clinton appointee, had ruled in favor of the center’s claim that the county had violated the federal False Claims Act. Westchester had repeatedly submitted certifications that it would use the more than $52 million in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding it obtained between 2000 and 2006 to meet statutory and agency requirements to “affirmatively further fair housing.” Cote ruled that, although the county knew that its residential patterns displayed severe racial segregation, it in fact made no effort to analyze the complaints of racial discrimination it received or to consider how its efforts to provide affordable housing might reduce race as well as class segregation.2

After first objecting to the ruling, the county agreed six months later to develop a plan to spend $51.6 million over seven years to build or acquire 750 housing units, with at least 630 in towns and villages where African Americans made up 3 percent or less of the population and Latino residents made up less than 7 percent. Though the units were to be available to any families earning up to $53,000 for renters and $75,000 for homeowners, without racial quotas, the county agreed to market them aggressively to black and Latino residents of the New York metropolitan area. Obama’s deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ronald Sims, announced that the settlement was “consistent with the president’s desire to see a fully integrated society.”3 Sims promised the administration would apply its principles to the other twelve hundred


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