(Hartford, Conn.) – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and multiple of its grantees and contractors failed to provide relocating families with the mobility counseling they were entitled to, imposed relocation deadlines that were highly unreasonable and only approved relocation vouchers that kept these families in the same low-income, poverty-concentrated area of North Hartford, Connecticut a lawsuit filed Thursday against HUD argues.
The lawsuit claims that HUD had the opportunity to provide a relocation program that would have enabled these citizens to move to housing in higher-opportunity areas and effectively address the discrimination they faced, but instead, chose to perpetuate segregation and violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Administrative Procedure Act. HUD itself has described North Hartford as one of the lowest-income areas in the country, and has a significantly higher rate of poverty and concentration of marginalized communities than the rest of the city or any of the surrounding towns.
The litigation, Center for Leadership & Justice v. U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, was filed in US District Court for the District of Connecticut. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Open Communities Alliance, Covington & Burlington LLP and the Yale Law School Clinical Program will be representing the Center for Leadership and Justice and several individual tenants.
“HUD is violating its duty to counteract segregation, maintaining the cycle of poverty and hardship in marginalized communities and demonstrating clear violations of the Fair Housing Act,” said Thomas Silverstein, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “By concentrating subsidized housing in North Hartford, HUD has maintained racial division within the region. The civil rights community will continue to fight for fair housing for all.”
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 set out to end segregation in the United States, imposing on HUD and public housing officials the duty to fulfill the goal of integrated residential housing patterns. Hartford County remains a segregated area in which Black and Hispanic people are concentrated in North Hartford. Subsidized housing is disproportionately placed in North Hartford and other low-income areas, rather other higher opportunity areas of the city and surrounding towns.
In this case, tenants were given a relocation voucher, after local organizations found the HUD-assisted buildings in which they lived inhospitable and deemed their conditions inhumane. However, HUD failed to provide these tenants with mobility counseling services that are designed to help families move to higher-opportunity areas, and did not give them clear directions for acquiring a relocation voucher for a higher opportunity area. HUD prioritized relocating people quickly, which caused many of them to move to another low-opportunity area, violating their rights under the Fair Housing Act.
“The right to fair housing is integral to our democracy, and the actions of HUD threaten this right,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “HUD’s actions have only perpetuated racial discrimination, and we will stop at nothing to ensure equal access to housing for all.”
Instead of moving these tenants to areas that were safer and had better schools, which would have given them a greater chance to break the cycle of poverty and hardship, HUD chose to continue its’ pattern of segregation.
Plaintiffs said the following:
“It was inspiring to witness the organizing power built by the residents we worked with to address the failures of slumlords, HUD, and others,” said Cori Mackey, executive director of the Center for Leadership and Justice. “However, it was a demoralizing reality check to see the extent to which residents were stripped of choice as their desires to move to specific areas and neighborhoods in the region were systematically denied. This has to change.”
Other parties to the suit said the following:
“This is a case about a series of government decisions that inevitably led to segregation, following a long historical trend. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion – but a train wreck that has happened hundreds of times before and could have been avoided. At virtually every decision point where the defendants could have chosen to make desegregation and true housing choice a real option for the families who were interested in accessing areas with strong schools and safe streets, they opted to disregard their duties under the Fair Housing Act,” said Erin Boggs, executive director of the Open Communities Alliance.
“Under the Fair Housing Act, HUD is required to place subsidized housing in a regional way instead of confining it mainly to distressed, high poverty areas. HUD’s continuing failure to comply with this fundamental duty here means that the North End of Hartford will again be unfairly compelled to host a disproportionate share of the affordable housing need of the region. This is unfair both to the City and to low-income residents of the region. It concentrates poverty further in an area that HUD itself has called one of the “poorest in the country” with “alarmingly high rates of unemployment, violent crime, and food insecurity,” said Peter Haberlandt, Senior Legal Counsel at OCA.
“This case has the potential to push HUD to change their practices, so that people who are relocated with section 8 vouchers in the future will receive the full mobility counseling they are legally entitled to,” said Zoe Masters, a student with the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. “It gives me hope to think that, with this case as a precedent, HUD might do a better job in the future of fulfilling their mandate to actively ameliorate segregation.”
“The Fair Housing Act charges HUD with combatting racial segregation that has resulted from decades of discriminatory housing policies. But instead of fighting segregation in Hartford, HUD has perpetuated it. After subjecting the plaintiffs and their families to deplorable conditions for several years, HUD rushed them through a relocation process that effectively denied them the ability to move to less segregated, higher-opportunity neighborhoods,” said Lanny A. Breuer, Shankar Duraiswamy, and Daniel Suleiman, partners at Covington & Burling representing the plaintiffs pro bono.
Read the full lawsuit here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.