ERASE Racism—a civil rights not-for-profit organization based in Syosset — recently submitted a civil rights complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleging that Nassau County discriminates against African-Americans and perpetuates racial segregation in the administration of its housing and community development programs. The Complaint identifies violations committed by the County itself, as well as the County’s failure to enforce federal civil rights requirements on members of the Nassau Urban County Consortium.
Each year, the Nassau County Office of Community Development allocates millions of dollars of housing funds to municipalities that are part of the Consortium. In Fiscal Year 2014, the County received $15,734,513 in HUD block grant funds. Acceptance of the funds obligates the County and members of the Consortium to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal Fair Housing Act and the separate obligation to affirmatively further fair housing (“AFFH”). The AFFH obligation requires the County and Consortium members to promote integrated living patterns by overcoming historic patterns of segregation.
The Complaint alleges that the County has not taken the affirmative steps required by these federal laws, and has continued to fund municipalities with restrictive zoning and housing practices. As a result, the County has reinforced segregated living patterns, rather than working toward their elimination. According to the 2010 Census, Nassau County is part of one of the most racially segregated regions in the country. While African Americans constitute 11.1 percent of the overall population of Nassau County, the vast majority of the municipalities in the Consortium have over time maintained disproportionately small or disproportionately large African-American populations.
“It has been 50 years since the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made discrimination based on race or color illegal, yet, as this complaint to HUD shows, African Americans are still being denied housing choice and, consequently, equal access to the same opportunities that white residents of Nassau County enjoy,” said ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross.
In the Complaint, ERASE Racism asserts that the County awards funds and dedicates County-owned land for affordable housing for families, but does so predominantly in communities characterized by high rates of poverty and large concentrations of African-American families. In contrast, when the County supports affordable housing for families and seniors in majority white communities, it often permits the use of residency preferences or requirements, which reinforce patterns of racial and economic segregation.
Further, the Complaint alleges, the County has provided millions of dollars of HUD funds to highly segregated municipalities with predominantly white populations for purposes other than for integrative housing—such as streetscape improvements, economic development and community centers—even though such municipalities have long histories of racial segregation and very small minority populations.
While the County’s most recent analysis of fair housing impediments finds that “the Nassau-Suffolk PMSA [Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area] ranks as the third most segregated suburban region” in the country and identifies local opposition to integrative, affordable multi-family housing as an impediment to fair housing choice, it proposes no appropriate actions to actually overcome such barriers. As a consequence, a number of municipalities have engaged in discriminatory land use policies and practices, such as zoning exclusions and residential preferences, which serve to limit the number of African Americans in their communities.
“ERASE Racism felt compelled to file this Complaint because the County has closed its eyes to continuing problems with segregation for far too long,” said Gross. “We have seen positive outcomes from HUD fair housing complaints in other parts of the country, and are confident that shining a light on Nassau County will lead to increased housing choices for people of color.”