BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The right to fair housing in Western New York
remains inconsistent, rife with barriers and impediments that
include a shortage of services for those facing discrimination, an
inadequate supply of suitable apartments and a lack of
transportation, according to a University at Buffalo School of
Social Work researcher studying local and national fair housing
"The consensus among focus group participants was that fair
housing information was not reaching all target populations," says
Kelly L. Patterson, UB assistant professor of social work and
co-author of "How Local Public Administrators, Nonprofit Providers
and Elected Officials Perceive Impediments to Fair Housing in the
Suburbs: An Analysis of Erie County, New York."
"It is disquieting to realize that 40 years after the passage of
the Fair Housing Act, discrimination remains a mainstay in suburban
housing markets in Erie County," Patterson says.
Patterson's study, published in the current issue of Housing
Policy Debate, a publication on social policy, housing and
community planning issues, addresses the "highly fragmented system
for circulating information about affordable housing." Patterson
says this fragmented system is among the biggest impediments to
obtaining fair housing and contributes to a number of
"The inconsistency in the dissemination to fair housing
information is really the major impediment for people to exercise
their rights to fair and affordable housing, and get what the law
says they are entitled to," Patterson says.
Patterson's findings resulted from a study she did for the Erie
County Community Development Block Grant Consortium and the towns
of Amherst, Cheektowaga and Tonawanda. The research was mandated by
the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a
requirement for receiving federal funds.
The study includes a series of recommendations, conclusions and
details on the structural, political and social conditions that
prevent people from enjoying the equality they are entitled to
under fair housing laws.
Among the most notable recommendations:
-- No way to get there. The issue discussed most among all focus
groups interviewed was transportation. "There was general agreement
that public transportation was limited in the suburbs," according
to the study, "and this constituted a barrier to accessing fair
housing, employment and other services."
-- Do a better job at getting the word out. This was one of if
not the major conclusion of the study, according to Patterson.
"Fair housing efforts in Erie County were hampered by fragmentation
and poor dissemination of information about affordable housing,"
according to the study. "At the municipal level, local fair-housing
officials were poorly trained and had limited capacity to handle
housing discrimination complaints."
-- To NIMBY or not to NIMBY. Community resistance -- or what is
commonly known as not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) -- is still very
pervasive in Erie County, according to Patterson's study. "In some
instances, residents heard about a proposed affordable housing
development, attended a public meeting and voiced opposition to a
project or rezoning issues," the study states. "In other instances,
landlords refused to rent to individuals based on race, familial
status, disability or source of income." Often, neighbors of
proposed affordable housing based their objections on unfavorable
stereotypes of people they thought lived in these housing
developments, according to the report.
-- The responsibility rests with leadership. "One of the central
findings from this research is that achieving these goals is highly
dependent on the commitment of local administrators, nonprofit
agencies and elected officials," according to the study. Leaders of
this group must have resources and training to provide these
services mandated by the law. They also must understand the
connection between fair housing and how it is a human right and a
means to social justice. "Without this commitment, fair housing
will continue to face resistance from some and be given lip service
by others," according to Patterson.
-- The clout of the federal government is key. The structural
barriers that restrict fair housing will remain until federal
intervention changes the status quo. "Without additional external
mandates (from federal officials), and enhanced enforcement and
external monitoring," the study states, "it is unlikely that a sea
change will occur in local fair housing implementation.
Indifference toward fair housing complaints led to perpetual buck
passing by local government."
-- Opportunities to reform fair housing policy do exist. The
major players of fair housing law -- local administrators,
nonprofit agencies and elected officials -- need new tools to
educate those on the front lines of fair housing laws and to better
enforce these laws. "Funding for fair housing testing should be
expanded in order to identify and correct violations of law before
individuals become victims of discrimination," according to the
study. "Testing should be accompanied by enhanced landlord training
to curb discrimination in housing markets."
Even though there were laws and resources that protected and
helped people facing discrimination, there was an often confusing
and conflicting "patchwork of programs" that individuals had to
navigate on their own. "When searching for this information, one
has to navigate each municipality's system," the study states.
"There is inconsistency throughout the county in how the
information is received."
Patterson's study, which she co-authored with Robert Mark
Silverman, associate professor of urban and regional planning in
the UB School of Architecture and Planning, was based on research
conducted in 2007-08 examining trends related to fair housing, as
well as focus group interviews with local public administrators,
nonprofit providers and elected officials. It centered on obstacles
to fair housing rights in 40 suburban municipalities surrounding
the City of Buffalo.
The researchers say the status quo was a "half-hearted" pursuit
of fair housing goals.
"The question at hand is whether it is acceptable for fair
housing goals to remain unmet and for individuals to continue to be
disenfranchised based on their race, familial status, disability,
source of income and other characteristics for another 40 years,"
the study states. "If it is not acceptable, then reform is
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
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