Is the ADL’s lawsuit against New York City worthwhile?

Should the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sue New York City for its practice of setting aside fifty percent of unit in new affordable housing buildings for existing neighborhood residents? The League says the practice encourages whites to stay in place, discourages social mobility (since minorities will be less likely to move into good –white –neighborhoods where they could have good schools and better opportunities), and perpetuates segregation. As a person who commented on Jim Epstein’s recent Newsweek opinion piece about the lawsuit asked: would the ADL be upset if affordable housing buildings were constructed in predominantly poor and minority neighborhoods, thus giving housing priority to some of the cities neediest residents? Or would they praise the city for providing options to people who rely on their current neighborhood for employment, family and community connection, and supportive services and who cannot afford to move, but also cannot afford to stay without government assistance?

Quite frankly, I don’t know that affordable housing is not constructed in low-income New York City neighborhoods, nor do I believe lawsuits implication that it isn’t. Although perhaps that is part of the problem, too, because encouraging poor people to stay in their neighborhoods creates a concentration of poverty and, again, perpetuates segregation. My point: sometimes it is hard to win at the politically correct affordable housing game, and sometimes it is hard to know what is right for all people (or least bad). The best solution I can think of is to allow people to remain in their neighborhoods, if they so choose, make it easy to move from one area to the other (by providing assistance during the housing search and making all available options known to potential renters), and infuse poor neighborhoods with money to have better schools, to have more employment opportunities that favor current (or new) poor residents. The problem, as I see it, is not racial but class-oriented. Because all races (including white) have some percentage of poverty in their populations.  And these people need housing. And once they have housing (and, yes, I believe housing is always the best first step because it provides stability and familiarity and, for reasons outside the scope of this blog post, is essential for a foundational sense of well-being and purpose, which can snowball into societal productivity) then money and focus can go to schools and other supportive services. And then, there will be no (or at least minimal) demarcation between wealthy and non; once barriers of class and education are reduced, barriers of race will be easier to mitigate.

Until that happy utopian future arrives, however, politicians and advocates will continue to struggle over the best racial, socio-economic mix, and the best policies for achievement thereof.

On a final note: please do not take this post to mean that I am against the ADL. I believe they do good work, and have the best interests of their constituents (the poor, minority, legally neglected, etc) in mind. I just think that it is easy to become mired in fairness at the expense of providing help to people in need. If the buildings affected by this rule are truly affordable, and fifty percent of units are affordable to current area residents, I do not see a problem, even if it means racial skewing. Because poor people are receiving housing, and are allowed to stay in a neighborhood that (presumably) they think of as home. The problem occurs only if the units are not given to people who earn below a certain income level but to those want cheap rent without moving too far.

What do you, readers, think is the correct form of action? Have I missed the mark? Or is this truly a lot of effort for a non-harmful cause?


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