AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald In this June 29, 2012 photo, the Cottage Landings affordable housing project is shown while under construction in Rye, New York. The development is part of a 750-unit requirement in the settlement of a 2009 lawsuit against Westchester County. The county is being criticized by the federal government over its implementation of the settlement. I n 2006, a civil-rights lawyer named Craig Gurian filed suit against Westchester County, New York, charging that the affluent county just north of the Bronx had been engaging in exclusionary housing practices that prevented people of color from moving into the county’s upscale suburban communities. Facing up to $150 million in fines for having, according to a federal judge, “utterly failed” to fulfill its obligations under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, Westchester entered into a landmark anti-discrimination settlement. The agreement committed the county to build 750 affordable housing units by 2016 in the whitest locales and...
According to a Fair Housing complaint filed last month by the Department of Justice, Palmdale and Lancaster in the northern section of Los Angeles County are the latest satellite cities to be found discriminating against African American Section 8 voucher holders. This comes as disturbing but not unsurprising news as communities of color, particularly in coastal and rust-belt cities, are pushed out of gentrifying urban centers and into increasingly more-affordable suburbs.
Since 2004, according to the DoJ, the Los Angeles County Housing Authority (HACoLA) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have colluded on a variety of tactics intended to scare African Americans out of the two Antelope Valley cities, including conducting random armed investigations of African American Section 8 residents, discouraging landlords from accepting Section-8 vouchers, and making statements that fuel local opposition to the influx of African Americans. (There was an “I hate Section 8” Facebook group, which has been taken down.) Los Angeles County’s actions indicate that the days of discriminatory housing practices are far from over.
On July 20, HACoLA agreed to pay $2 million to the hundreds of families who have been harmed by the discriminatory enforcement of the Section-8 voucher program; five families will be reinstated into the voucher program. The settlement also requires reforms to the county’s voucher enforcement patrol procedures, and that the illegal practice of sharing voucher holders’ information with outside parties, such as the sheriff’s department, is discontinued.
While $2 million is a big win for the victims, it’s doubtful that this settlement means the end of discriminatory housing practices in Lancaster and Palmdale. Recent Fair Housing Act cases show that the terms of settlements are hardly ever met or enforced, especially in communities where discrimination denial is prevalent and public officials like Lancaster’s mayor voice opposition to enforcing fair-housing laws.
The coming years will likely see more cases of suburban opposition to fair-housing practices, and not just because of the rising real-estate prices that push low-income residents out of cities. Last month, the Obama administration announced some changes to the “affirmatively further fair housing” rule, which requires jurisdictions to actively work toward dismantling segregated housing patterns. In efforts to provide Section-8 residents with greater opportunity for social mobility, the revamped rule includes a set of new tools for housing-rights activists to lobby for Section 8 housing in high-income and largely white suburbs.
No doubt this announcement is in many ways a big win for fair housing activists. But instances of law enforcement corrupted by white suburban fear and racism may still be a regular occurrence.
Today, at a 500-guest ceremony, the Cuban flag was raised above Washington, D.C., for the first time since the Cold War, as the U.S. and Cuba got the green light to resume diplomatic relations. Since Obama’s announcement last December to reopen embassies, a Cuban-style “perestroika,” has allowed for the arrival of many new technologies to the island nation, including the Internet.
This month, after over a decade of near-isolation from the online world, President Raúl Castro opened 35 Wi-Fi hotspots around the island. This may sound insignificant, but it isn’t. Until recently, Cuba’s general public had access to only 419 computers with Internet. People would queue up for up to three hours at “navigation halls” to use dial-up modem Internet.
In Cuba, only 3.4 percent of households have Internet access, and as of now, there are no mobile data plans. The Internet has remained out of reach for most Cubans for so long mostly because of censorship, and not necessarily lack of resources. It is not clear whether increased access to the Internet will lead to Cubans using it as an organizing tool to demand more political freedoms. TheNew Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson predicts that Cuba is “bound on a course not unlike that of Vietnam and China: hybrid communist states in which citizens enjoy few political liberties but significant economic freedom.”
Though state-run and state-censored, the Internet is a huge win for Cubans, who have been barred access to research tools and social media networks that are so integral to education and communication in the developed world. As one Cuban woman told CNN, the Internet restriction in Cuba “disconnect[ed] us from the 21st century.”
According to a Reuters report, Cuba plans to extend Internet access to 50 percent of the population by 2020. In contrast, it took over a decade for the U.S. to reach the 50 percent benchmark, and for many Americans living in poverty, Internet access is still a privilege denied to them.
A number of studies in recent years, including one released by the White House last week, have linked broadband access with economic disparity. More than 90 percent of U.S. households headed by college graduates have access to the Internet, but less than one of every two lowest-income households can get online.
In today’s world, it’s clear that barriers to Internet access perpetuate poverty. As the White House study put it, “While many middle-class U.S. students go home to Internet access, allowing them to do research, write papers, and communicate digitally with their teachers and other students, too many lower-income children go unplugged every afternoon when school ends. This ‘homework gap’ runs the risk of widening the achievement gap, denying hardworking students the benefit of a technology-enriched education.”
Last week, at a school in the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, Obama announced that hundreds of thousands of public-housing residents in 27 cities and one tribal nation will be receiving Internet access for less than $10 per month, or for free in Atlanta, Kansas City, and Nashville. Obama’s plan, called ConnectHome, is an important reminder that the digital divide exists not just between countries but also within wealthy countries like ours.