New York, NY

Appeals court to rehear insurance race bias case

October 26, 2009
federal appeals court will reconsider its decision to let African-American homeowners sue Farmers Group Inc for racial discrimination based on alleged overcharges on property and casualty insurance policies.
     The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday said it will rehear the class-action case "en banc," which it typically does with 11 judges, and said a May 12 ruling by a three-judge panel should not be cited as precedent.
     Farmers said it is wholly-owned by Zurich Financial Services AG.
     Farmers Group, its lawyers and lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
     In the lawsuit, Houston resident Patrick Ojo accused Farmers of charging minorities higher premiums than Caucasians for homeowners' property and casualty insurance.
     

Lawsuits over Broadway (Triangle)

September 10, 2009
Attorneys for a coalition of 40 North Brooklyn community groups filed a lawsuit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg today, contending that the city violated the Federal Fair Housing Act in its negotiations regarding the development of Broadway Triangle, four hours after a City Planning Commission hearing on the issue.
     The lawsuit charges that the respondents, which include Mayor Bloomberg, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and its Commissioner Rafael Cestero, violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the City and State Human Rights laws “by the racially and religiously discriminatory impacts of the proposed rezoning proposal” and failing to comply with the city’s land use and review process (ULURP).Calls to the mayor’s office were not returned by press time and an HPD spokesperson, when asked to respond to the lawsuit, said that the department does not comment on ongoing matters of litigation.

Lawsuits over Broadway (Triangle)

September 10, 2009
Attorneys for a coalition of 40 North Brooklyn community groups filed a lawsuit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg today, contending that the city violated the Federal Fair Housing Act in its negotiations regarding the development of Broadway Triangle, four hours after a City Planning Commission hearing on the issue.
     The lawsuit charges that the respondents, which include Mayor Bloomberg, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and its Commissioner Rafael Cestero, violated the federal Fair Housing Act and the City and State Human Rights laws “by the racially and religiously discriminatory impacts of the proposed rezoning proposal” and failing to comply with the city’s land use and review process (ULURP).Calls to the mayor’s office were not returned by press time and an HPD spokesperson, when asked to respond to the lawsuit, said that the department does not comment on ongoing matters of litigation.

Housing bias persists, fueled by the Internet

August 31, 2009
It's been some 40 years since the federal Fair Housing Act was passed allowing the Department of Justice to prosecute "patterns or practices" of housing discrimination" and 20 years since that act was amended to permit the department to act against municipalities that violate fair housing standards.
     Yet housing discrimination persists in New York, according to the Fair Housing Justice Center, a city-based non-profit fair housing organization. The city's acute shortage of affordable housing combined with the fact that "real estate brokers and agents handle much of the rental market, unlike any other U.S. city" has created an unchecked system riddled with corruption and abuse, said Diane Houk, executive director of the center.
     Even though city government has taken some measures to fight this kind of discrimination, fair housing advocates still see the need for better and more flexible enforcement. They say that all levels of government have failed to keep up with rapid technological changes -- like the advent of the Internet to advertise apartments -- to monitor compliance and ensure rules are followed.

The Court is right about Westchester County housing

August 18, 2009
Your description of the landmark settlement that emerged from the Anti-Discrimination Center's lawsuit against Westchester County as "the government deciding where it wants people to live" ("Color-Coding the Suburbs," Review & Outlook, Aug. 15) bears no relation to the actual terms of the agreement nor to the history of residential racial segregation in Westchester County.
     Westchester is deeply, deeply residentially segregated. A dozen of its municipalities have African-American populations of less than 1%. Nine more municipalities have African-American populations of less than 2%. The principal indices of segregation show, remarkably, that Westchester was more segregated in 2000 than it was in 1950.
     One should not be fooled into thinking that it is only poorer African-Americans who are living separately from whites. The most widely used measure of segregation has demonstrated that African-American households earning more than $150,000 per year are more segregated from whites than are African-American households earning less than $50,000 per year.

NAACP anniversary celebrates progress on racism, but not an end

July 17, 2009
Hollywood couldn't have scripted a better setting.
     As thousands of NAACP members streamed into New York City recently to celebrate the civil rights organization's 100th anniversary, the world around them looked dramatically different from the one the group's founders confronted in 1909.
     In his inaugural address that year, President William Howard Taft asserted the right of Southern states to use Jim Crow laws to keep blacks from voting. States shouldn't have to worry about the federal government interfering in "their domestic affairs," Taft said.
     This year, Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation's 44th - and first black - president.

Obama mulls rental option for some homeowners-sources

July 14, 2009
U.S.government officials are weighing a plan that would let borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments avoid eviction by renting their homes instead, sources familiar with the administration's thinking said on Tuesday.
     Under one idea being discussed, delinquent homeowners would surrender ownership of their homes but would continue to live in the property for several years, the sources told Reuters.
     Officials are also considering whether the government should make mortgage payments on behalf of borrowers who cannot keep up with their home loans, tapping an unused portion of a $50 billion housing aid kitty.
     As part of this plan, jobless borrowers might receive a housing stipend along with regular unemployment benefits, the sources said.

Court: N.Y. county made false claims to U.S. over 6-year period

February 25, 2009
In a landmark decision, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote has found that Westchester County falsely claimed that it was meeting its obligation to affirmatively further fair housing (“AFFH”). The ruling – rejecting the County’s motion for summary judgment – instead granted partial summary judgment to the Anti-Discrimination Center (“ADC”).
     The Court found that the County made claims to the federal government seeking payment from the federal treasury…and that the claims – more than 1,000 of them over six years – were “false or fraudulent.” The full text of the decision, along with other materials related to the case, is available at http://www.antibiaslaw.com/wfc.
     With several important issues decided against it, Westchester must now stand trial facing potential liability in excess of $150 million. Commenting on the decision, Craig Gurian, ADC’s Executive Director said: “We hope the County will now recognize that it faces critical problems of residential segregation, and that it makes sense to work with us to craft a sensible resolution of this matter that will enhance affordable housing opportunities throughout Westchester.”

Judge upholds city ban on Section 8 rent bias

February 19, 2009
A New York City law that makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants who receive government subsidies has passed its first major legal test, after a justice in Manhattan upheld a broad interpretation of the law.
     The law, which went into effect last March, prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their use of federal rent subsidies known as Section 8 vouchers, or any other form of local, state or federal government assistance.
     Tenants and housing advocates had complained that as once-struggling neighborhoods had gentrified, many property owners were refusing to accept the vouchers, as a way to force low-income renters — many of them black or Hispanic — out of their buildings or keep them out. Landlords said their reluctance to take the vouchers had nothing to do with race or income, but stemmed from the payment delays and other bureaucratic problems with the way the city administers the federal Section 8 program.
     Tenants who receive the Section 8 subsidies pay about 30 percent of their income toward rent, and the vouchers cover the rest.

A homecoming for HUD’s new secretary

February 13, 2009
Shaun Donovan was New York City’s commissioner of housing preservation and development, in charge of overseeing the Bloomberg administration’s plan to build or preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing, from 2004 until 2008, when he took a leave of absence to work on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Now he is President Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development.
     Mr. Donovan, a 43-year-old architect with three Harvard degrees, commutes to and from Washington each week, spending the weekend in New York, where his wife, the architect Liza Gilbert, and their two sons, have stayed. On Friday morning, Mr. Donovan gave a significant policy address at New York University’s law school — one of his first as HUD secretary — in which he outlined his plans for the department at a time of severe economic turmoil that was largely brought on by the crisis in the housing market.
     John Sexton, president of New York University, and Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, introduced Mr. Donovan, who was a keynote speaker at a two-day conference, “A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Transforming America’s Housing Policy,” sponsored by the university’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.
     “I am the eternal optimist, as you know, and finding opportunity in crisis is exactly what we need to be doing right now,” Mr. Donovan began by saying.

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