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Separated by Design: Why Affordable Housing Is Built in Areas With High Crime, Few Jobs, and Struggling Schools

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Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, The Connecticut Mirror, reports in ProPublica:

HARTFORD, Conn. — The moon pulls 6-year-old Romeo Lugo to the window at night.

The autistic child loves to gaze up at it, howling like a werewolf as it rises like a luminous pearl over the horizon of city buildings and trees he sees from his second-floor apartment.

But on one particular evening four years ago, his mother, Aida, noticed something else as they stood at the window: a man getting out of a gray car in front of their building and walking toward the nearby barber shop, gun drawn.

She grabbed Romeo and ducked.

“Bam, bam, bam,” Aida Lugo recalls hearing seconds later. “I couldn’t move.”

After the incident, the single mother explored moving from Frog Hollow — one of the state’s poorest and toughest areas. She even visited nearby towns. But the only units in her price range were located no more than a few blocks from the gunshots and the drug dealers in her neighborhood, so she remains marooned there — in the same apartment.

That’s because state officials have chosen, year after year, to direct the bulk of public funding for affordable housing to Connecticut’s most impoverished communities.

Since the mid-1980s, almost $2.2 billion in low-income housing tax credits have been awarded to construct 27,000 affordable housing units in the state. Just 10% were built in prosperous towns, an investigation by The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica has found. About 80% were located in struggling communities, literally erecting pockets of poverty. The rest fall somewhere in between.

While many state leaders across the country direct those credits to poor areas, arguing that’s where the need is greatest, Connecticut stands out on the national stage. In a recent federal study of 21 states, it had the second highest concentration of affordable housing in high-poverty neighborhoods, behind only Mississippi.

Today, Lugo’s unit is one of more than 700 apartments funded through the tax-credit program within a six-block area of her home. The neighborhood is host to a homeless shelter, a juvenile jail, public housing and a profusion of unoccupied storefronts and apartments plastered with “for rent” signs. On several utility poles are devices that notify police when gunshots are fired. Surveillance cameras abound.

“You know, you don’t have any other option but to try and get used to it and the things around you,” Lugo said. “I just keep to myself with my kids, and we do what we have to do.”

Most of the funding to build affordable housing in the U.S. comes from the federal government, with states receiving a set amount of low-income housing tax credits, or LIHTC, each year based on their populations. State officials then decide how and where they are used.

Connecticut’s extreme concentration of affordable housing in poor areas owes largely to its selection process. The state requires developers to obtain local zoning approval before they even apply for a tax credit, a practice that has been flagged by federal regulators as potentially discriminatory. In May, The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica reported that many zoning boards in the state rely on their finely tuned regulations to keep housing segregation firmly in place. The news organizations found that more than three dozen towns have blocked construction of any privately developed duplexes and apartments within their borders for the last two decades.

Developers, in turn, look to cities, where local leaders are often more receptive to any development that could help replace blighted properties or vacant lots. In Connecticut, that has meant a deepening racial divide in a state that’s home to some of the most segregated neighborhoods in America. According to the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, at least half of the homes in Lugo’s neighborhood are reserved exclusively for the poor. Nearly all of the residents of the area are Hispanic, like Lugo, or black, U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

“We have an affordable housing crisis and a segregated housing crisis. The state has opted to only address the affordable housing crisis,” said Erin Boggs, executive director and civil rights attorney with Open Communities Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for housing reforms.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration says it favors a balanced approach, encouraging affordable housing both in “high opportunity” communities with good schools and low crime rates, and in more impoverished neighborhoods. “Connecticut recognizes the value of increased opportunity and growth in all of our communities,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

The numbers, however, tell a different story.

The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica compared the location of LIHTC-funded units with so-called opportunity maps developed for the Connecticut Department of Housing by researchers at Ohio State University. Of the nearly $100 million in tax credits awarded by the state this spring, 88% of the new apartments will be in “low opportunity” areas. That means high crime, low homeownership rates, little access to working-class jobs and lackluster school performance.

Connecticut’s Democratic senators say they are troubled that so many of the tax credits are going to high-poverty areas. The tax credit program, they say, is long overdue for a reevaluation.

“It’s concerning, and I want to know why,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, in response to The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica’s analysis. “I think we have to examine the reasons for it — whether they are economic or discriminatory — and determine whether there are remedies necessary and appropropriate.”

Sen. Chris Murphy added: “I think we should be spreading out low-income housing tax credit dollars to projects throughout the state. You’ve got to give people choice. Folks that have lower incomes or need rental support shouldn’t only have a handful of neighborhoods in Connecticut’s cities as their only housing options.”

Meanwhile, developers say they are just building what the state is most likely to fund. At the same time, they are conflicted about constructing housing reserved for the poor mainly in poor communities.

“To be honest, this system discriminates against poor people. You are forcing these people to live in communities that don’t have the level of resources needed to educate their kids,” said John McClutchy, founder of JHM Group, which is one of the largest recipients of tax credits in Connecticut. “We are looking to build housing that better reflects the community. … It shouldn’t just be warehousing poor people.”

Housing Segregation by Formula

Created by Congress as part of a massive tax overhaul during the Reagan administration, the low-income housing tax credit was designed to lift the poor amid surging home prices.

By many measures, it was a success. Since 1987, the tax credit has funded the construction and rehabilitation of more than 3 million apartments for the poor — 30% of the country’s affordable housing units. Conservatives and liberals alike lauded the program. But over time, housing advocates and civil rights groups say, officials in some states funneled a disproportionate amount of credits to poorer communities.

In 2008, a community group in Texas pressed that case against the state’s Housing Department, arguing in a lawsuit that the agency had violated the Fair Housing Act by concentrating low-income housing tax credits in the Dallas metro area. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling that there are limits to building subsidized housing in mostly impoverished neighborhoods because the practice has a “disparate impact” on minorities.

Questioning how and where credits are awarded “may prevent segregated housing patterns that might otherwise result from covert and illicit stereotyping,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion in 2015.

Meanwhile, the IRS, which oversees the LIHTC program, cautioned states in the waning days of the Obama administration against requiring local approval for affordable housing projects. Giving what is essentially a “local veto” to municipal leaders, the agency found, is “perpetuating residential racial and economic segregation.”

Some states made sweeping changes. In Maryland, for instance,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The government again fails the public.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 12:21 pm

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