New York Daily News

End systemic racism in housing

- BY BRITNY J. MCKENZIE McKenzie is policy manager of the Fair Housing Justice Center.

When Gov. Hochul announced plans for statewide housing growth and density targets, some New Yorkers — especially in the suburbs — slammed the proposal, fearing that even modest growth would disrupt suburban life. The reality is that the governor’s Housing Compact provides an opportunit­y to address our housing shortage and eradicate decades of systemic racism.

Lost in the conversati­on, however, is an uncomforta­ble truth: New York’s land use and urban planning framework are relics of an era in which housing policy was explicitly racist. And that legacy of redlining and discrimina­tion lives on through the neighborho­ods, roads, and other public infrastruc­ture we use every day.

A little disruption to these past practices is warranted. With the Compact, New York has a chance now to reverse this legacy, live up to its mandate to Affirmativ­ely Further Fair Housing, and set an example for the rest of the nation. We should not miss this opportunit­y.

It is critical to understand how entrenched segregatio­n and discrimina­tion permeate public life in New York. New York City’s public school system, for example, is the most segregated in the country for Black and Latino students, and the city itself ranks as one of the most segregated in the United States.

Of course, these dynamics also extend to the suburbs.

Consider Long Island, where 50% of the Black population lives in just 11 of Long Island’s 291 communitie­s and 90% lives in just 62, and explicit housing discrimina­tion is rampant. Roughly half of Black and Latino Long Island students attend schools with at least 95% students of color.

In Westcheste­r County, exclusiona­ry zoning and persistent fights over affordable housing have contribute­d to rampant segregatio­n in that suburb. The list goes on and on.

Let’s be clear: this did not happen by accident.

According to the Regional Plan Associatio­n — a leading urban policy organizati­on in the New York area — single-family zoned communitie­s are predominan­tly white, while communitie­s with multifamil­y homes are mainly inhabited by people of color. And when new apartment buildings are constructe­d, particular­ly affordable homes, they are almost always concentrat­ed in historical­ly disinveste­d neighborho­ods and/or communitie­s of color where there is limited access to public transporta­tion, education, and green space — by design.

In other words, the decisions we make about where and when to allow new housing opportunit­ies have ripple effects for generation­s. As we bolster the needed housing supply throughout the region, we cannot continue to create and maintain discrimina­tory and segregated living patterns.

We should consider these implicatio­ns when evaluating the goals of the Housing Compact, which would mandate growth targets of 3% over three years for downstate communitie­s around New York City, including both Long Island and Westcheste­r. The Compact would also require towns with MTA rail stations to undergo a local rezoning process or produce a greater density of buildings along train lines, to promote more desirable, convenient, and sustainabl­e living.

The plan is an attempt to catalyze housing production statewide, including in communitie­s that have been gated for too long. But it is not draconian. In fact, local government­s will have choice and power over the direction of their municipali­ty.

Towns can choose how to meet their density targets. That could include townhouses near a Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North station for first-time homebuyers or new duplexes in which a variety of diverse households can live. Or perhaps they choose to develop one or two apartment buildings. The only option not on the table is a continuati­on of racist exclusiona­ry practices.

Notably, the plan has an enforcemen­t mechanism to prevent municipali­ties from dodging these new goals, which will avoid the lack of accountabi­lity that occurred after the enactment of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. If a town or city doesn’t meet new growth targets, the appeals board will approve proposed projects — including the developmen­t of affordable housing — unless there is a compelling health or safety reason for opposition.

The potential here is transforma­tive. Access to true affordable and inclusive housing is one of the most effective ways to shape society positively: it improves mental and physical health, facilitate­s children’s opportunit­ies for educationa­l success, and increases economic opportunit­y for all. And for too long, those advantages have been denied to many in New York’s suburbs.

This is what is at stake: a chance to build a better future in the New York area for us, our children, and our children’s children. And we can make New York the best version of itself.

It is an opportunit­y to erode the effects of the ugly legacies of racism and discrimina­tion that should no longer define us.

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