Case 28:  Pomonok Public Housing Can't Encourage Working Families Until Whites Move Out!

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Recent evening at Pomonok
A recent evening at Pomonok

Working Poor Families Restricted from Pomonok Public Housing Until Fewer than 30% of the Apartments are Occupied by Whites!

Flushing resident Nat Broizman contributed heavily to this report.

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Housing Development: "Pomonok Houses", a 35-building public housing development containing 2,071 apartments, maintained by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)
Where: "Pomonok Houses" is located in Flushing, in Queens County, NY.  It is bounded by 65th and 71st Avenues in Flushing
Absurd Legal Opinion: "...The Working Family Preference does not have an adverse impact on minority public housing applicants, BUT it would perpetuate the past segregation of predominantly white housing projects (defined as housing projects 30% or more of whose residents are white)!"  See Judge Sweet's May 2, 2001 Opinion, below.
Issues:
  • A housing project is considered "segregated" if as few as 30% of its residents are white.
  • Working poor minority families are not allowed a housing preference until fewer than 30% of the residents are white.
  • The underlying presumptions of Judge Sweet's series of legal opinions appear to be: (1) that only white families are working families; (2) if you bring working families into Pomonok you will change the racial balance to favor white families; and (3) minority families are therefore apparently NOT working families! 
  • On the face of it these are quite a series of racist stereotypes and racist assumptions by Judge Sweet.

Summary

          It started out simply enough.  In 1995 the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) attempted to implement a sensible rule that would give preference for public housing assistance to families who had jobs vs. families who had no jobs. 

          It was called simply the "Working Family Preference" policy.

          The "Working Family Preference" policy proposed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) gives priority for public housing to families who are working (have jobs) but who are not earning enough to pay regular market value for rent.   Such families are often, and accurately, referred to as the "working poor".

          NYCHA implemented this policy in order to prevent an over-concentration of the poorest of the poor in any given neighborhood and to make it possible to admit more "working poor" families into NY public housing.

Police vehicles at Pomonok
Police vehicles at Pomonok
(Photo by resident Nat Broizman)

          The Legal Aid Society sued to stop the "Working Family Preference" on grounds that it was somehow racially biased, and federal Court Judge Robert W. Sweet, Manhattan, ruled that NYCHA could not enact the "Working Family Preference" at Pomonok until white families occupy less than 30% of the apartments there!

          Judge Sweet's decision denies public housing assistance to "working poor" white families based solely on the color of their skin AND it also denies public housing assistance to "working poor" NON-white familes as long as "too many whites" live in the development.  

Pomonok
Pomonok photo by Nat Broizman
          Judge Sweet's weird and potentially racist decision was upheld 2-1 by a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District.  The lone dissenting opinion was from Appellate Judge John M. Walker who wrote:  "The practical effect of [this Appellate Court's] majority decision is to deny housing to people who deserve it because of their hard work or other merits, solely on the basis of their race or ancestry, to frustrate the worthwhile efforts of the NYCHA to reward and promote employment and economic self-sufficiency in its tenants, and to deny the existing tenants the obvious benefit of having working families in their neighborhood."

          The Court decisions against the "Working Family Preference" disallowed this sensible policy not only in Pomonok but also in 13 other NYCHA public housing projects because they have a white population of more than 30%.   Most of the other 322 public housing projects in the city (which were, in fact, allowed to implement the "Working Family Preference") have less than 30% white population.  A prior Court decision [see Legal History, below] has arbitrarily defined the NYCHA projects to be "illegally, racially segregated" if more than 30% of the units are occupied by "white" families.

          Ironically, most of the families on the waiting list for the "Working Family Preference" are non-white, according to Adversity.Net's sources.


Relevant Legal History

          In 1992, the NYCHA was found guilty of "steering" white public housing applicants to "white" housing complexes, and of "steering" black public housing applicants to "black" housing complexes, and so on.

          In 1992 the Courts found this practice illegal, and directed the NYCHA to discontinue "racial steering" of applicants based on their skin color.  Additionally, the Court directed NYCHA to give preference for public housing to poorer families, and prohibited the use of race in NYCHA's assignment of public housing.

         Unfortunately, in 1992 the same Court -- as a remedy for the prior "racial steering" -- defined "desegregation" within the NYCHA housing program as "achieving a mix of public housing residents that was less than 30% white".  This prior court decision is the one upon which Judge Sweet and the Appeals Court relied in their subsequent denial of the "Working Family Preferences" policy.

Same evening at Pomonok
Same street scene at Pomonok
(Photo by resident Nat Broizman)

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Judge Sweet and His Rulings:

Hon. Robert W. SWEET
United States District Judge

United States District Court, Southern District of New York

Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse
500 Pearl Street, Room 1920
New York, New York 10007-1312
(212) 805-0254

Courtroom 18C
Deputy (212) 805-0124

Link: http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/judges/USDJ/sweet.htm

Available Downloads:

May 2, 2001 Opinion (Pauline Davis, et al) PDF format

Aug. 8, 2001 Opinion (Pauline Davis, et al) PDF format


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Contributing Editor:

          Flushing resident Nat Broizman contributed to this report. 

          Mr. Broizman is passionate in his concern for the quality of life in his neighborhood, and he has tirelessly campaigned for racial fairness and equal treatment in the Pomonok Houses project.

          Nat Broizman has written to HUD Secretary Martinez:  "If you believe that working families deserve a safe and decent place to raise their children, you must help us [Flushing residents] solve this problem.  Working families applying for apartments at NYCHA, of which a majority are minorities, will suffer terribly if Judge Sweet's decision [against the Working Family Preference] is allowed to stand."


END Case 28:  Pomonok Public Housing

 

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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.