Sunday, March 25, 2012
APARTMENT SIZE is a good example of a weapon that violates the spirit of the Fair Housing Act without necessarily violating its letter. Because families need larger apartments than, say, young, childless singles or empty-nesters, builders can use apartment size as a proxy for tenant types. If you're a town and you want to attract ratables, or if you're a developer who thinks it will be easier to lease and maintain apartments for singles, build studios and one-bedrooms and you're likely to get your wish. (Building only studios and one-bedrooms is also an effective means of attracting whites, since minority households are almost always more likely to be family households than white households.) Thus it is small apartment units that are typically exclusionary. But here's an interesting case in which the opposite is true - a case in which a minority groups felt discriminated against on the grounds that a builder planned units that were too big. As reported by New York World, "Manhattan State Supreme Court judge has halted a city-sponsored affordable housing development planned in Brooklyn, asserting it illegally excludes prospective black and Hispanic occupants." How so? In the plan blocked by the court, more than 40 percent of the apartments would have three or four bedrooms, which, the plaintiffs' successfully argued, favors the area’s Hasidic Jewish community to the detriment of other residents in the area.
As the New York World points out, the ruling challenges the city’s routine practice of offering preferences for scarce low-cost apartments to residents of the community district hosting the project. It's worth pointing out that this disturbingly anachronistic practice could itself be in the Arsenal of Exclusion, since in a segregated environment, offering preferences for units to residents of the community district hosting the units will obviously only led to further segregation. (Interestingly, it was one of the practices that ACLU of Maryland cited in Thompson v. HUD to make the case that HUD and Housing Authority of Baltimore City were discriminatory in their siting of public housing projects).