The non-profit Center for Leadership and Justice is among the plaintiffs who allege in a proposed class action that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has over the last 50 years allowed racial housing segregation to fester within the Hartford, Connecticut metropolitan area, and has actively made the problem worse by failing to adequately administer housing relocation programs in largely racially segregated neighborhoods.
According to the 76-page lawsuit, HUD’s decades-long failure to fulfill its statutory mandate to promote “open, integrated residential housing patterns” has effectively steered families and individuals into racially segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods.
The complaint alleges the failure of the defendants—HUD, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, the Housing Authority of the City of Hartford, the City of Hartford and Imagineers, LLC—to comply with HUD’s greater mission in administering its relocation program is to blame for the plaintiffs’ and proposed class members’ inability to move their families out of “highly segregated neighborhoods” and overcome “the discriminatory barriers they faced” in attempting to find better housing.
“Plaintiffs deserve a meaningful chance to relocate to higher-opportunity areas, as they have wanted all along,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants should be required to take all necessary actions to place the families in the position they would have been in had Defendants provided proper relocation assistance to them in the first place.”
The eight individual plaintiffs allege the “vast majority” of families who resided in three HUD-subsidized North Hartford apartment properties—Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments, Barbour Gardens Apartments and Infill I—located in “highly segregated, high poverty neighborhoods” were predictably unable to secure leases outside of the rapidly deteriorating apartments or “other heavily segregated, low-opportunity neighborhoods.” According to the suit, the families’ inability to obtain better housing is a result of HUD’s decision to “rush the families through the relocation process” and failure to provide adequate relocation services, which the agency itself has described as “critically important” to overcome discriminatory barriers and residential segregation.
Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968 to combat decades of discriminatory housing practices that have caused destructive patterns of racial segregation nationwide, the lawsuit begins. With the Fair Housing Act, Congress expressly charged HUD and other entities at the helm of federal housing programs to further the Act’s goals, the suit emphasizes.
According to the lawsuit, however, much of the United States has remained “highly segregated” in the more than 50 years since the Fair Housing Act’s passage, with the Hartford metro area, and in particular North Hartford, being one such area. Five years ago, HUD, the case says, described North Hartford as “one of the poorest [areas] in the country,” with high rates of crime, unemployment and food insecurity.
The lawsuit charges that had HUD embraced its legal mandate to promote “open, integrated residential housing patterns,” it could have done any number of things over the last five decades-plus to fight segregation in Hartford:
“It could have funded community-based revitalization efforts in North Hartford. It could have constructed public housing or subsidized housing developments in less segregated areas. It could have actively recruited landlords in less segregated, higher-opportunity areas to accept housing voucher recipients instead of discriminating against them.”
In truth, HUD has done none of these things, the case says, and has in fact made Hartford’s housing segregation problem worse. More from the lawsuit:
“HUD’s administration of housing assistance programs for low-income families in Hartford—who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic—includes both subsidized housing units under the Project-Based Rental Assistance program (‘PBRA’) and housing vouchers that can be used to rent from any private landlord under the Housing Choice Voucher program (‘HCV’). Rather than making PBRA units available in places like Farmington or Glastonbury, HUD has largely chosen to concentrate them in racially segregated neighborhoods like North Hartford. And rather than attempting to overcome the barriers that voucher recipients face when seeking to move to an integrated, higher-opportunity area, HUD has effectively steered these families into racially segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods.”
The suit says the plaintiffs are among those who’ve for years lived in North Hartford HUD-subsidized PBRA properties. According to the complaint, HUD subsidized the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments (CARA), Barbour Gardens Apartments and Infill I for years “even though they were located in highly segregated, high poverty neighborhoods and even though they repeatedly failed safety inspections.” The lawsuit says the condition of the buildings by 2018 and 2019 worsened to the point that HUD agreed to end its contracts with the landlords and provide resident families with HCV vouchers, which would allow them to relocate to “any one of the thousands of market-rate housing units available in the Greater Hartford area.”
While the families “eagerly embraced” the opportunity to move into a better neighborhood, HUD, the lawsuit alleges, “proceeded to rush the families through the relocation process” and then fell short in providing adequate relocation services, a purported pillar of HUD’s overall mission. The result, the complaint goes on, is that the vast majority of families were unable to secure a lease outside of North Hartford or other “heavily segregated, low-opportunity neighborhoods.”
Still further, HUD, rather than use the newly released PBRA subsidies to fund housing units in better areas, decided instead to resubsidize two of the same buildings from which the plaintiffs were attempting to move, effectively “doubling down on residential segregation in Greater Hartford,” the lawsuit says.
Importantly, HUD pays landlords through the PBRA program to provide subsidized housing to low-income tenants through long-term Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contracts, the complaint continues. The lawsuit says that because the HUD subsidy provided under a HAP contract is tied to a property, a tenant cannot leave the property without also losing the subsidy.
“For some, this subsidy is the only thing keeping them from becoming homeless, meaning that moving is not even an option,” the case reads. “Even if building conditions are deplorable, residents living there have no choice but to stay.”
Evidencing the foregoing, the lawsuit says the plaintiffs and other families at the aforementioned North Hartford housing projects endured for years “substandard conditions” that were so bad that “a social worker prohibited a new mother from bringing her newborn there” and led the city’s mayor to “threaten to bring criminal charges against the owner.” Upon visiting one of the properties, U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy reportedly commented that the conditions were “inhumane and totally unhealthy,” and that the owner was “getting wealthy off of housing that is falling down around residents.”
“Inspections of Infill found rats, mice, cockroaches, flooding, mold, exposed wires, blocked emergency [exits], a collapsed ceiling, and missing toilets,” the lawsuit says before commenting on the “unsafe areas” in which the properties resided:
“From 2012 to 2018, nearly 400 gunshots were detected by a police sensor in the Clay Arsenal area where CARA is located. Barbour Gardens and Infill are located less than two miles north of CARA, in the North End neighborhood. Residents of Barbour Gardens saw, heard, and sometimes felt the impact of bullets grazing the buildings. One of the Infill residents once found a child who had been shot in the Infill parking lot. For these reasons, many residents were concerned for their children’s safety and would not allow them to play outside.”
After months of pressure from the Hartford-based Center for Leadership and Justice, HUD finally agreed to terminate its HAP contract with the owners of the CARA, Barbour Gardens and Infill apartments, the suit says. As part of the agreed-upon abatements, HUD was to provide the families living in the buildings with HCV vouchers that, in theory, would allow them to move to private rental units across the country, per the case, noting that the wheels seemed to be in motion to relocate residents.
The reality of the situation, however, is that the vast majority of families, despite the availability of homes in “less racially segregated areas,” were hindered in their efforts to secure leases before their HCV vouchers were set to expire, the lawsuit alleges. For its part, HUD allegedly failed to provide the individuals with accurate information about the value of their vouchers, which caused uncertainty as to whether they could afford certain units. Those who did find a place, the case says, “frequently faced discrimination from landlords who unlawfully told them they ‘did not accept Section 8 vouchers,’” or simply did not respond to calls.
Staring down these and other obstacles, many families had no choice but to relent in their searches for better housing and resign to stay put, according to the complaint:
“In the face of these barriers and an imminent deadline that could mean losing their vouchers and relocation benefits, including security deposit funds, many families were forced to give up their search for a higher-opportunity neighborhood. The vast majority stayed in Hartford or moved to other racially segregated, low-opportunity areas. Some moved just blocks away from their old buildings.”
The defendants’ failure in administering the relocation program is the direct cause of the plaintiffs’ inability to move their families into better housing in better neighborhoods, the lawsuit alleges. According to the suit, the defendants’ aim to simply move the families as quickly as possible left them with “no choice but to settle once again in racially segregated, low-opportunity areas.”
The complaint can be found below.
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