Haitian American Communities Have Become The New Focus Of Housing Discrimination Fights

By Nate Nkumbu

Housing discrimination is an issue that is being faced by many cities across the United States.

In South Florida, housing discrimination is nothing new.

In a place where real estate is such an important part of the local economy, tales of housing discrimination are prevalent within minority communities.

Morgan Williams is the Director of Enforcement & Investigations for the National Fair Housing Alliance in Washington D.C. Williams explained in an email the history that housing discrimination has had the U.S.

According to Williams, in the 1930’s, a phenomenon known as redlining became a common practice in areas where minority people lived.

Redlining was a federal housing policy that explicit denying housing services to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic makeups of those areas.

Williams said that the practice is still in effect today with banks often at the front.

“Today, some lenders structure their loan products, restrict broker services, site branch locations, and/or target their marketing on the bases of race, national origin, sex, familial status, disability, or other protected class,” Williams told RISE NEWS.

“In restricting lending services in a discriminatory manner—whether limits services in communities of color or that isolated prospective female borrowers on parental leave—the more subtle contemporary redlining practices have the same practical effect of limited credit access on a geographic basis.”

One such case that Williams talked about is Providence v. Santander Bank.

According to the Providence Journal, the city’s lawsuit alleged that Santander Bank had reduced lending in minority neighborhoods over a multiyear period while expanding its business dealings in “predominantly white neighborhoods.”

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Santander Bank bought Sovereign Bank in 2009 and as a result occupied a large share of the overall mortgage market in the city, meaning that people had few options outside of Santander.

This case saw the city of Providence settle with Santander Bank for $1.3 million in grants for lower income houses in return for dropping the housing discrimination case.

In South Florida, there are organizations that fight housing discrimination.

Each one has different experience with the issue.

Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence or HOPE is an organization that operates in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Daniel Howe, an expert for HOPE said that that the most common cases that HOPE deals with are REO house.

REO houses are bank owned houses that are maintained and kept during foreclosure or unsuccessful sales.

Howe said that the REOs in richer, more white communities are maintained and well kept better that their Latin American or African American community, leaving areas of Miami looking dilapidated in stark contrast to the richer areas only a few blocks or miles away.

Photo Credit: Occupy Miami Photos/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: Occupy Miami Photos/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Another organization up in Palm Beach County has a different take on the housing discrimination in South Florida.

Vince Larkins is the CEO of Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches.

His organization recently took the city of Boca Raton to court accusing the city of discrimination towards families with children.

During an interview, Larkins said that housing discrimination cases are prevalent in the Haitian Community.

“The level of discrimination towards Haitians is disproportionate to the number of cases we get at the the office,” Larkins said in an interview with RISE NEWS.

This assessment is followed by Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami, a organization based in Miami that helps Haitian families.

Bastien said in an email that the Haitian community often gets short shrift when it comes to housing.

“Most affordable housing seems to go to more politically connected and empowered immigrant groups like Cuban-Americans,” Bastien said.

“Those Haitian families that finally gotten through after long waiting periods often find themselves uprooted from their neighborhoods to Homestead, Florida City ….far away from their milieu ambient, extended families and friends.”

Just recently, Bastien’s organization fought to officially define the border for Little Haiti, an area that is the center of Haitian-American cultural and economic life in the city of Miami.

Last week, the city of Miami commission voted to make official the borders of Little Haiti.

Bastien said that there are plans for improvements across the area.

“Now we’re on a plan to revitalize the area and [create] a community land trust, to recoup spaces and land in the district/area and redevelop them for affordable housing,” Bastien said. “The second part of the plan is beautification and a CRA to bring resources to Little Haiti that strengthen businesses and spur growth.”

Florida is home to nearly two thirds of the Haitian American population. According to the 2009 census, Haitians Americans numbered at 830,000 people.

This community while growing in clout, is also at the heart of housing discrimination fights around the country.

Larkin pointed towards one case in particular with a Haitian family trying to buy a condominium. The family was flat out rejected by the condo’s owners, saying that they had a policy of “not allowing any colored people inside the community.”

“In the end, we were able to get the family into the house and won a settlement, but that family reached out to us first and were able to get their case heard,” Larkin said.

For Bastien, the work in Miami is not completely over.

She said that affordable housing isn’t much of reality anymore because the prices prohibited large sections of the population.

“It has been very difficult for folks to have access due to very limited resources,” Bastien said.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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