Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

6A Statement about Who Deserves to Live Here5: The Fair Housing Act Implications of Housing New York

Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

6A Statement about Who Deserves to Live Here5: The Fair Housing Act Implications of Housing New York

Article excerpt


The fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA or "the Act") invites an examination into the state of housing segregation in one of our nation's largest cities, New York city (the city). Even now, a single racial or ethnic bloc dominates the population of over half of the city's community districts,1 even though no one racial group makes up more than one-third of the City's overall population.2 The problem has not improved in recent decades: the dissimilarity index, which is the standard measurement for assessing racial differences across Census tracts, has remained flat for Black-white and Latinowhite segregation between the 1980 and 2010 Censuses.3

Hand-in-hand with persistent housing segregation in the City is New York's affordability crisis, the manifestations of which are legion. The share of the City's rent-burdened households, defined as households that spend over 30% of their incomes on rent,4 has grown from 40.7% to 51.7% in the period between 2000 and 2014.5 Over 250,000 families are on the waiting list for New York City public housing, and just under 150,000 families are on the waiting list for Housing Choice Vouchers in New York City,6 the latter of which has been closed to new applicants since 2009.7 On the supply side, the City's Department of Finance estimates it lost 50,000 rent-stabilized units between 2004 and 2014.8 Overall, asking rents have increased by an average of 3.9% per year between 2010 and 2017, greatly outpacing the 1.2% average annual growth of the consumer price index (CPI) of the New York metropolitan area in the same period.9

These trends have hit the poorest New Yorkers hardest. According to a commercial market analysis, asking rents in the bottom quintile of the market have increased at a 4.9% average annual rate since 2010, compared to 3% in the top quintile of the market.10 At the same time, wages have grown slowly or even fallen in some fast-growing low-skilled or unskilled sectors.11 Within the housing market and policy landscape in New York City, gentrification has placed new stress upon low-income New Yorkers.

First coined in 1964,12 gentrification broadly refers to the displacement of low-income communities at the expense of upwardly mobile residents, with the displaced residents typically being people of color and the incoming residents largely being white.13 In New York City, New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy identifies an area as the subject of gentrification if its average household income was in the bottom forty percent of the city's neighborhoods in 1990, but subsequently saw a greater rent increase than did the median neighborhood on a percentage basis.14 The City's gentrified neighborhoods experienced faster average annual rent increases between 1990 and 2014; added the greatest percentage of housing units between 2000 and 2010; saw the fastest-growing shares of young, educated, and nonfamily households in the city between 2000 and 2010; and witnessed a declining share of Black and Latino residents between 2000 and 2010 compared to low-income and nongentrifying neighborhoods and high-income neighborhoods.15

The gentrification crisis thus begs the question: what must cities consider when creating affordable housing? Cities' affordable housing development programs - and, indeed, all of their housing policies - must nevertheless comply with the FHA.16 The Act prohibits governments from excluding members of a protected class (inter alia, race) on the basis of their membership in that class from zoning and land use decisions that prevent them from living in a given community.17 Specifically, the Act prohibits decisions that are motivated by animus toward the class or that have a discriminatory effect on members of that class.18 A policy may have a discriminatory effect if it either has an adverse effect on members of the protected class or if it perpetuates segregation in the community in question. …

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