For Low-Income Renters, HOA Restrictions Drive Racial Segregation in Housing | Business

When Danielle Ross moved to Arlington from Michigan in 2016, she was looking for a better life for herself and her children. As a single mother of six (now seven children, with the youngest, Jeremiah, born seven months ago), her job at Bank of America wasn’t enough to allow Ross to save up for a house just yet.

She had never received public assistance before, but on the advice of some co-workers who knew her situation, she decided to look into the Section 8 Choice Voucher Program. She got approved and moved into a house in Providence Village three years ago.

“I was skeptical because I didn’t know much about Texas, but my real estate agent said it was very laid back, had good schools,” Ross said.

Authorized by Congress in 1974 and developed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the voucher program was intended to bring new opportunities to families who had been relegated to inner-city projects, high-income areas crime and high poverty. With Black, Native American, and Hispanic households they are most likely extremely low-income rentersIntroducing the voucher program would, in theory, desegregate housing and give families like Ross’s the opportunity to find housing in suburban neighborhoods with well-funded schools and lower crime rates.

But for Ross, now living in a hotel while looking for a new home, the show’s promises have backfired.

Family photo of Danielle Ross

Danielle Ross with children (from left to right) Jeremiah, Laila, Rico, Brendyne, Ethan, Joshua and Eli.

As the federal government sought to provide new options for low-income renters, homeowners’ associations, which rose in popularity in the early 1960s, were fighting their own battles. Early HOAs implemented deed restrictions to prevent black buyers and renters from settling in their neighborhoods. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 then prohibited discrimination based on race, but not on source of income, meaning that Section 8 housing bans like the one passed by the Providence Home Owners Association last month past could still keep black residents out.

“Today we don’t see language like that, but language that restricts the ability of landlords to rent to someone who receives rental assistance has a disparate impact on families of color, particularly African-American families, so it has the same effect,” said Ann Lott, executive director of the Dallas-based Inclusive Communities Project, which helps locate families with vouchers in suburban neighborhoods.

Passed June 6, the ban in Providence Village would fine landlords with Section 8 tenants $300 a week as long as they house tenants with vouchers, including those with current leases. One hundred fifty-seven households with up to 680 residents, more than 90% black, would be displaced. The association faced pushback from property managers who hired a local attorney to fight the ban, as well as state advocacy groups who asked the Justice Department to investigate the leasing rules.

In a change, the association announced last week that it would allow tenants to end leases of no more than a year and gave month-to-month tenants until September to vacate.

For Ross and his family, it was already too late.

“We were forced to move because my lease expired on May 31 and the landlords said they weren’t going to renew my lease,” Ross said. “I have been in a hotel with my children since June 3.”

Ross said her landlord didn’t give her a reason why she wouldn’t renew, but she’s sure it was in light of the new rules.

‘The new N-word’

Homeowners communities are as popular today as they were during their heyday 60 years ago. Over 80% of homes in new subdivisions are part of HOAs, and boards often majority white and asianThey have broad regulatory powers. Fines of up to $200-$300 per week are common for violations, and associations can even foreclose on the homes of non-compliant members.

For tenants with vouchers, unfriendly HOAs can make finding a home even more difficult.

With the rental market in Dallas-Fort Worth already at over 90% occupancy, landlords don’t have much of an incentive to rent to voucher holders. Housing authorities must conduct property inspections before a tenant with a voucher can move in, and the rental process takes longer than in the private market. Owners often want to avoid bureaucracy.

“A complete overhaul of the Section 8 program is really needed to simplify it and put the power in the hands of coupon holders,” Lott said.

Some states have banned discrimination against voucher holders, but Texas passed a law in 2015 that protects landlords’ ability to deny rent to prospective tenants based on their source of income. A 2020 ICP survey found that 93% of homeowners in Denton, Dallas, Collin, and Rockwall counties would not accept coupons, and according to a University of Texas at Austin study, the whitest areas were the most likely to turn away Section 8 tenants.

“Section 8 equals Black, it’s the new N-word,” Lott said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find available units for families who need a voucher.”

Among the 1,153 voucher families located in Denton County by the Dallas Housing Authority, 1,006 (87%) are Black. Fifty-nine percent of voucher program participants through the Denton Housing Authority are black, with 39% white.

Relocation typically takes 30 to 60 days, said Sherri Dade, executive director of the Denton Housing Authority. But now more like 60-90 is needed. Exclusionary zoning laws can also limit the construction of multifamily units, leaving families with few options outside of housing concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods.

If tenants with vouchers don’t find housing within 60 days, they can lose their vouchers. In Houston, one in four Section 8 households can’t use their vouchers because they can’t find landlords who will accept them. according to The Texas Tribune.

It’s something Ross is experiencing for the second time.

“When I applied for Section 8, I couldn’t find housing in Arlington, so I was pushed to the McKinney area,” Ross said.

Although the area meant better educational opportunities for her children, Ross said she never felt entirely comfortable in Providence Village.

“When I first moved there, a neighbor put her number in my mailbox to tell me about a black man who she said had a criminal record and was wandering around the neighborhood,” Ross said. “No one was going to come say anything racial to your face unless it was a heated argument, but there were a lot of things like that, it just left a bad taste in my mouth.”

As he saw more diversity in the neighborhood, Ross said he heard more racially charged comments associating things as mundane as messy yards with families with vouchers. One afternoon, his son had an asthma attack while playing outside. Neighbors called Child Protective Services instead of alerting Ross, who was inside at the time, he said.

“It was painful, but I didn’t want to keep bouncing my kids from one place to another,” Ross said. “I was the type that thought if I tried to keep my head down, keep my kids quiet, we would be invisible.”

Residents say crime, not race, is behind leasing rules

Homeowners who support the voucher ban, including homeowners of color, say it’s not racial: It’s about keeping crime out of their neighborhoods and protecting their investments. They point to an uptick in criminal activity, such as a shooting confrontation and a fire at a playground earlier this month, which they allege are related to tenants with vouchers.

However, the Aubrey Police Department was unable to confirm the ties to the coupon holders.

“We have no way of knowing who is Section 8 and who is not, nor do we investigate after any event,” Aubrey Police Department Lt. David Bruce said. Denton Record-Chronicle. “It just doesn’t come into play. It is not information provided to us. It is not information that we want. No matter.”

Lott said the argument is one his organization hears frequently.

“If you have a bad tenant, a property owner can take steps to address any type of lease violation with an individual household. Why is everyone with a Section 8 voucher being targeted?” Lott said.

Housing authorities in Denton and Dallas require background checks for voucher applicants, and certain convictions automatically disqualify tenants from participating in the program.

Whether or not bans like the one in Providence Village are racially charged, Lott said there’s no denying they have a disproportionate impact on Black renters and could derail progress made in desegregating housing in recent years. decades.

“We are going to start to see a concentration of coupon holders in some of the inner city areas with the highest poverty rate, the highest concentration of minorities, because the suburban areas that tend to have HOAs will be out of reach. of them,” Lott said. “If Providence is successful with this measure, there will be other HOAs that will try to enact similar changes to their bylaws, and that is why we are really going to fight this.”

ICP has been working with other state groups to coordinate with HUD following the Providence Village ban.

Ross has applied for a move to Dallas and now spends his hours away from work calling landlords to try to find another home. He doesn’t want to go back to Michigan, but in North Texas he fears his chances of finding a safe and nurturing home are diminishing.

“I want my kids to feel comfortable and safe,” Ross said. “I don’t even know if I want to move out of Texas, I really don’t know what to do.”

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