Dec 28, 2008

Fair Housing: Do Asian Americans Matter At All?

I have been tracking down and getting up to speed on some civil rights issues, fair housing being one of them. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity recently released a pretty extensive report looking at Fair Housing in the new millennium. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed in the late 60s as one in a group of landmark laws that ensured the rights of those most likely to be discriminated against in a range of issues.

The FHA targeted landlords and others with the power of allowing or denying the right of people to rent or buy housing, outlining the criteria that may not be considered in deciding whether someone could rent or buy from you. The FHA itself outlines race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, disability, and age, among other things.

State and local acts have added to this, now including sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, source of income (for example, housing vouchers), and a number of other criteria that cannot be used to discriminate against people seeking housing. However, the report painted a fairly grim picture about where things are at with enforcement and gives a road map about where things could go with the inevitable reorganization expected when the new administration comes to DC.

There are some good recommendations there, however, looking at this report was quite sobering: there's only one mention of Asian Americans, and it's basically as a obligatory mention of all communities of color (it's also the only time that Native communities are mentioned). While there are some pieces about the impact of poor fair housing enforcement on immigrants, it is clear that they are talking about Latinos, and the priorities focus on issues central to Latino communities. While I don't question that these problems in equitable access to housing must be addressed, I'm very worried about the lack of concern or mention of Asian American/immigrant communities.

Hell - even Clint Eastwood's new movie (Gran Turino), which I haven't seen, seems to marginally deal with issues of Asian immigrants and housing better than this report. Clint Fucking Eastwood. So where is the outrage, or the addendum from the Asian American community? Where are the pieces that talk about the specific hurdles faced by many of these communities, which are pretty well documented by Fair Housing testers around the nation that actually include Asian Americans in their work?

I haven't seen anything at all, and I'm still waiting. I guess it begs the question of who should be looking at these issues? It's a civil rights issue, but I haven't seen the Asian American Justice Center, or really any of its three affiliates (LA, San Fran, and Chicago, though the Asian Law Caucus has done housing work in the Bay Area for a long time) deal with this issue at all. AALDEF seems to have just hired a housing attorney in NYC, so there's not much there either.

And that brings us to the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD). They were formed by a group of local Asian CDCs around the nation who thought we needed a national organization to push for policy change in the National Capital and support local efforts around the nation. But if we all agree that affordable housing falls generally into the "community development" universe, do tenants' rights?

Because aren't many CDCs housing developers? And doesn't that make them. in effect. landlords? And isn't that kind of in conflict with tenants' rights? So then where do they fit in when it comes to fair housing work? And isn't it just a little odd that there's no group out there that really claims fair housing advocacy to be part of what they do on behalf of Asian American communities, when there are documented studies that show that landlords in places as diverse and "accepting" as NYC and the Bay Area are screening potential renters by their accents, last names, and purported/assumed religious background, with Arab Americans, Muslims, and some other South Asians getting the short end of the stick most often.

Family status (and the relation between members of a "family") are touchstones for the Latino community, and this is very true for Asian immigrants too. They're basically saying not just that 10 people in a 2 bedroom is unacceptable, which is hard to argue with, but that even if there are only 3 or 4 people in that apartment, they have to have a very specific relationship, and grandma's gotta go. That's problematic for extended family connections that many Asian immigrants recognize, and allow for all kinds of crazy landlord shenanigans.

But the heart of this post, and my inquiry, is still: who out there gives a shit about Asian Americans and fair housing? And who is raising those issues in the public sphere? And why aren't we holding the groups who say they give a shit about our civil and housing rights accountable?

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