Will We See More Suburban Opposition to Fair-Housing Rules?

Will We See More Suburban Opposition to Fair-Housing Rules?

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.