TIMES BEACON RECORD NEWSPAPERS
Making Democracy Work: Building Inclusive Communities
by Nancy Marr Februarry 27, 2020
When Newsday published its account of racial discrimination in housing last December, people were sad to read it but most said it was not a surprise. By documenting it with the results of 25 testers we are forced to look for explanations and then for solutions. Racial attitudes from the past were carried over by the federal government; it advocated racially restrictive covenants on deeds to prevent homes from being occupied by African Americans, Jews and other minorities. The Federal Housing Administration’s manual in 1936 stated that deed restrictions should prohibit occupancy of homes “except by the race for which they are intended” lest “incompatible racial elements“ would cause housing values to fall. In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-restrictive covenants were not enforceable, but the practice remained. The 1968 Fair Housing Act signed by President Johnson finally made racial discrimination illegal. Blatant discrimination began to give way to steering; black house hunters were shown homes only in minority or integrated areas while whites were shown houses in overwhelmingly white areas. As people of color began to buy homes in mostly white areas, block busting by real estate brokers took advantage of the situation by scaring white homeowners into selling their homes at lowered prices. The U.S. Justice Department ruled racial steering illegal under the Fair Housing Act and both state and federal governments launched efforts to investigate and curtail steering and block busting. Local agencies like the Human Rights Commission and Suffolk Housing Services have been able to bring cases of discrimination and steering to court with some success.
And yet the testers in the current study showed that significant proportions of homebuyers of color were not shown homes in areas with better schools or primarily white populations, but African Americans, Latinos, and Asians were shown homes in areas that the testers told white homebuyers they would not want to live in. It is significant that the salespeople chose to match their prospective buyers with the schools in the districts they were shown. They knew that white buyers would want to live in the areas with the best schools that they could afford. They showed the buyers of color homes in areas with poorer schools, even though they too wanted to live in the areas with the best schools they could afford. The Newsday article was followed by County Executive Bellone’s announcement that a testing program will be launched by Suffolk County. New York State has already started trainings for the real estate industry with strict enforcement of the rules that should guide them.
But can the solution rest with enforcement of civil rights laws? At the LIVE Newsday event, panels of experts discussed the article on discrimination and filled in some of the spaces. The method of funding schools in New York State, if not changed, will continue to create competition for funds between “good” areas and “bad” ones. Deep seated public prejudices and fear of changes that might affect home values often influence real estate brokers, who can play a role in re-educating the public about housing discrimination but who are not insensitive to the attitudes of their clients. How can we, as the community, change our attitudes? Can community planners in towns and villages find ways to include all segments of the community to find solutions? The Village of Patchogue worked with the Long Island Housing Partnership to build workforce housing priced for families with lower incomes, chosen by a lottery. Located near the railroad station, it has brought together a diverse group of younger families and stimulated the building of other housing downtown. The entrepreneurship of Latinos in Patchogue has supported the growth of the business district. Other sustainable developments throughout Suffolk County are redeveloping vacant malls and stores to build affordable and workforce housing, overcoming the shortage of available land and finding ways around the need for sewers. The L. I. Housing Partnership has formed a land trust to acquire and own the land that it leases to homeowners, reducing the cost of homeownership. Vision Long Island’s website VisionLongIsland.org gives examples of development projects that address issues of diversity. Make your voice heard. Let your county, town and village representatives know that you want all neighborhoods to welcome housing for a diversity of people in thriving communities.
Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, or call 631-862-6860.
View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here.
Making Democracy Work: She took action to ensure the vote... will you?
by Lisa Scott January 30, 2020
The new year brought the optimism of lengthening days, even as the undeniable effects of climate change frighten and yet drive the desire to “do something.” Nationally, January brought the commemoration of Dr. King, stopping us to think about his legacy; inspiring yet so unfulfilled more than fifty years after his death. The legions of civil rights workers, volunteers, freedom riders, protesters, and women and men of all faiths, colors and origins knew that past and present wrongs could be exposed through demonstrations and civil disobedience, and then made right by law. And 100 years ago, after many decades of struggle, women finally won the right to vote in the 19th amendment to the Constitution. Yet the United States was born out of compromise and states’ rights, leading to today’s patterns, in many states, of voter suppression eroding the democracy we had strengthened for nearly 250 years.
Yes, all women and men 18 and over have the constitutional right to vote. But in practice many eligible individuals don’t register, or don’t exercise their right to vote, or have that right taken away if they’ve been convicted of felonies, or are arbitrarily removed for the voting rolls, or they are gerrymandered to limit the value of their vote, etc. Yet voting this year, 2020, is critical; for President, for all members of the House of Representatives, and for one-third of Senators. In a polarized and cacophonous political climate, what can be done to ensure a fully participatory democracy?
Meet Lisa M. La Corte, a resident of Riverhead township, who wanted to honor Dr. King as an icon for civil rights and voter engagement, and honor the suffragists and all people who risked and gave all for the right to vote in a free election. The League of Women Voters learned about someone who was riding the Patchogue-Riverhead Suffolk Bus in the afternoons in January, getting passengers to register to vote. We invited her to a recent board meeting, and heard her story.
Ms. La Corte boarded the bus at the beginning of its weekday route, introduced herself to the driver, and when everyone had boarded she stood at the front and made a public announcement, introducing herself. She said she was there to help register voters and hear riders’ concerns of poor transportation for underserved communities as well as other issues. She stressed the importance of the passengers’ having their voices heard through the vote. She then walked from the front to the back asking each person individually if they were registered and if not (but eligible) she would register them then and there.
Most passengers are shy or skeptical but Ms. La Corte perseveres. When speaking with riders who do not want to register, she reminds them that is “what they want for you to not do is vote" and that by staying out of the democratic process elected officials can ignore or minimize their needs and concerns. Their voices are not heard and their community exerts no pressure for change.
The challenge for someone working with communities of color, in her view, is that black and brown people have no trust in any level of government or the process in general because they have been left behind so many times. Poor people feel that they don’t count no matter what they do, resulting in a sense of hopelessness. Our fractured communities are separated by a chasm of real-life experiences; why should they participate in a system that ignores or mistreats them? Why is authority not being held accountable? Why are black and brown people incarcerated on a hugely disproportionate basis, breaking up families and communities?
Ms. La Corte engages with all riders, whether or not they register to vote. She listens to their stories and challenges and hopes to build trust and commitment to the vote. As she said to the League, “I would love a movement that would transcend what I could ever imagine. I am but one person with ideas that hopes to inspire others. Like James Baldwin said ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until its faced’."
What are you doing to ensure access to the vote for all our fellow-citizens, educate them on the issues, and re-establish trust in our civic institutions and government?
Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, or call 631-862-6860.
View the above article on the TimesBeaconRecord Media website here.