Wednesday 7 December 2022
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Syracuse Bans Housing Discrimination in Ongoing Poverty Struggle

By Rodney Brown


poverty2A 2015 study titled the “Architecture of Segregation,” by The Century Foundation, found that Syracuse had the highest level of concentrated poverty among blacks and Hispanics, out of the one hundred largest metropolitan areas in the nation.

“Starting with the African-American poor, the most concentrated metropolitan area is Syracuse, where nearly two-thirds of the black poor lived in high-poverty neighborhoods in most recent data,” the report stated. “Since 2000, the number of high-poverty tracts in the city more than doubled, rising from 12 to 30.”

Currently, both Mayor Stephanie Miner and Syracuse Common Councilor Jean Kessner say there’s no one solution to resolve the city’s high levels of concentrated poverty.

However, according to Miner and Kessner, peeling back the layers that have caused the extreme poverty in the first place may begin to move the needle in the right direction.

One cause of poverty in Syracuse is discrimination based on an individual’s source of income, Kessner stated.

Previously, under the city’s fair housing laws, Kessner said landlords could refuse to rent to a tenant if they received public assistance, which largely contributed to the city’s problem with poverty.

As a result, Kessner said she began working on legislation a little over two years ago, to make it unlawful for landlords to discriminate based on a tenant’s source of income.

“Syracuse has a lot of concentrated poverty,” Kessner stated. “The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on creed, age, sexual orientation, marital status, or military service. A person who’s being discriminated against because of where their money is coming from should have the same protection afforded to them also. It’s an important piece of legislation, because people don’t have decent places to live.”

Syracuse’s Common Council agreed, and voted 7-2 in favor of Kessner’s legislation.

Consequently, Kessner said the new stature will be amended to the 1991 Fair Housing Practice Act, once it’s filed with the New York Department of State in the next few weeks.

The mayor also supported Kessner’s legislation, and Miner said she will sign it as soon as it comes across her desk.

“Syracuse suffers from the pernicious effects of poverty, a reality visible on our streets every single day,” Mayor Miner stated. “Denying those receiving public assistance access to housing is wrong. Ensuring people have access to quality, affordable housing is a foundational step in addressing economic security.”

However, landlords are pushing back.

With the support of the two dissenting councilors, some landlords have argued that owners should be able to approve or deny their tenants based on their individual discretion, simply because they own the property.

City landlords have also said renting to a person who receives public assistance may give them an extra burden that’s both unfair, and unjust.

However, Miner said she disagrees.

“Rental property, whether it’s an apartment building, or a single family home, is a business venture,” the mayor stated. “Businesses are always subject to regulation to protect consumers. The city of Syracuse has numerous laws that protect consumers from discrimination. For example, a grocery store couldn’t refuse a customer because of their race, or gender, or sexual orientation. This is in keeping with our commitment to protect citizens from discrimination.”

In addition, “I understand some of the landlord’s concerns,” Kessner stated. “However, when you try to work with them to ensure their grievances are met, they begin looking for other ways out. It [the legislation] doesn’t say, you can’t judge the tenant. But, you can’t knock them out of the box from the start. If a tenant has a track record; you shouldn’t rent a house to them. But, poor doesn’t make you a bad tenant.”

Residents can currently file complaints against landlords in Syracuse City Court or call CNY Fair Housing at 315-471-0420.

The next step is to make the legislation effective countywide, Kessner stated.

Local laws in Buffalo, Hamburg, West Seneca, and Nassau County also presently prohibit discrimination against tenants that is based on their source of income.

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