Marin County's Minority Problem (Updated)
Did you see the hilarious spoof in The Onion the other day -- "Marin Agrees to Seek Out Minorities"? “Marin County,” the post begins, “has agreed to research why it has so few minority residents relative to the rest of the Bay Area and to take specific actions to attract more low-income people and ethnic minorities to the affluent county, which is more than 80 percent white.” This agreement, the post continued in the same vein, was not really voluntary; it was forced upon the affluent suburban county, across the Golden Gate from San Francisco, by the federal diversity police.
How funny is that?
Way too funny, it happens, for The Onion to dream up -- or anyone else. No, "Marin Agrees to Seek Out Minorities" was not an Onion spoof but an actual article in The New York Times about an actual agreement that HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for Region IX foisted on Marin.
The agreement, signed last month with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, came more than a year after the agency found that the county failed to comply with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and two other antidiscrimination statutes.
The review found that Marin County’s federally financed affordable-housing programs failed to reach out adequately to minorities and people with disabilities, failed to adequately track which ethnic groups were benefiting from those programs, and failed to take steps to ensure that low-income and minority residents were not pushed out.
“The jurisdiction has an obligation to take actions that affirm housing is fair and that there’s choice,” Charles E. Hauptman, regional director for fair housing and equal opportunity at HUD, said in an interview.
HUD obliged Marin County, represented for five terms by legendary liberal “Call Me” Senator Barbara Boxer, to expatiate its guilt for discriminating against minorities who weren’t there by recruiting and housing more of them.
If you want to see real, actual humor, take a look at that “Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA),” or more accurately the:
SECTION 109 OF THE HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 1974, AS AMENDED
TITLE VI OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964, AS AMENDED
SECTION 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973, AS AMENDED
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
OFFICE OF FAIR HOUSING AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY
COUNTY OF MARIN
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT PROGRAM
3501 CIVIC CENTER DRIVE
SAN RAFAEL, CA 94903
Lawyers, of course, are famous for their humor, and they don’t disappoint in this VCA, noting as they do that even though “the Department found that the County was in preliminary non-compliance” with a number (all listed) of “non-discrimination” provisions (including 24 CFR §§ 1.4 and 6.4, “affirmatively furthering fair housing”), the parties nevertheless
agree that nothing contained in the Agreement shall be construed to be a final finding or determination by the Department that the Recipient or any of its agents or employees intentionally engaged in unlawful practices that may have had the effect of illegally discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender or disability. The parties agree that nothing contained in this document shall be construed as an admission of liability or an admission of having acted in violation with respect to the Department’s preliminary findings by the Recipient or any of its agents or employees.
I made several attempts to translate that, but my translations were as impenetrable as the original. An example: the County was found to be in preliminary non-compliance with non-discrimination requirements but that finding wasn’t final and shouldn’t be construed to mean that any County agent or employee had actually done anything that may have had an illegal effect, and all agree that the County has not admitted that any of its agents or employees had ever done anything that HUD preliminarily found that they may have done.
Nevertheless, Marin County, being the incomparably liberal county that it is, agreed to take a large number of steps to rectify its possible, but not admitted, discrimination against absent minorities. The specifics include massively documenting “outreach” to minorities, with records of which groups are targeted and very specific racial identification of attendants at meetings over the next five years. The County’s “notes from the meeting(s) shall be relied upon to provide the disability status of attendees and when attendees did not self-identify race/and or ethnicity on the sign-in sheets.”
Racial monitoring is not limited to the meetings: “the Recipient shall ensure all future contracts between the Recipient and sub-recipients contain a requirement for sub-recipients to collect and report data on the race, ethnicity/national origin (Hispanic/Latino or Non-Hispanic/Latino), gender and disability characteristic or waiting list applicants and participants and beneficiaries.” Specific forms and procedures for collecting all this racial data must be revised, submitted, and approved, and training provided to County personnel on how to collect the data.
After all the meetings and forms and data collection and training, of course, is the required affirmative action: wherever “under-representation” was identified, “affirmative marketing and outreach strategies targeting the under-represented groups” must be developed and implemented. Where “Asian and Hispanic populations” with “Limited English Proficiency” are among the under-represented, a “Language Assistance Plan” must be developed “as a means of increasing their participation in affordable housing programs and public service activities.”
These sorts of requirements go on for over eight pages. Many are stellar, but perhaps my favorite is III(E), which requires “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH).” Section 1 requires the County to complete “an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (AI)” that must include, among other items, identification and analysis of “the causes of lower racial and ethnic minority residency in the County relative to adjacent counties” and “the actions the Recipient will take to address those impediments.”
So there it is. The biggest “Impediment” to fair housing in Marin, one of America’s 25 richest counties, would seem to be that, according to the 2000 Census, it is only 2.9% black and only 5.7% Mexican. (It is also 0.2% Puerto Rican and 0.1% Cuban; does HUD care if those groups are “under-represented” among the Hispanics who are “represented”?) Both Sonoma County to the north (6.6% black in 2009) and San Francisco County to the south (6.7%) are doing much better. Those counties are also doing far better than Marin in attracting people of Limited English Proficiency. According to this November 2010 “Assessment of Limited English Proficient Populations” in the Bay Area, only 7.5% of Marin’s population speaks English “less than very well,” compared to 10.5% in Sonoma County and 22.1% in San Francisco County.
HUD is right; clearly Marin is falling down on the job of attracting minorities. Perhaps it could offer relocation bonuses, homestead tax exemptions, and other tax benefits to minorities to move there, especially Hispanics and Asians with limited English proficiency, so they could not be discriminated against in public housing and other services.
And, to be sure, HUD should have no difficulty persuading the courts that assessing citizens (and others) different tax rates based on their race or ethnicity does not violate -- indeed, according to HUD, is required by -- Title VI’s command “that discrimination on the ground of race, color, or national origin shall not occur in connection with programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance.”