Civil rights lawsuit targeting Darien, Ct. gets green light


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A civil rights lawsuit alleging discriminatory behavior by the town of Darien’s planning and zoning commission has been given the go-ahead by a federal judge. The lawsuit, filed by a former resident, Chris Hamer, charges that, in 2009, the wealthy Gold Coast suburb’s zoning commission rejected Hamer’s affordable housing application because “of the defendants’ perception […]

Roxbury, Ct.’s snob zoning in the news


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I was recently interviewed by a reporter for a Hearst Media daily for a story about a three-town Connecticut school district where the student population is plummeting. One of the towns in the district is Roxbury, which I featured in Snob Zones as an example of how large-lot zoning can make towns unaffordable for young […]

California to issue hefty fines for blocking access to beaches


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Remember the epic Malibu beach battle fought by media mogul David Geffen? The DreamWorks cofounder erected gates at his oceanfront compound to block a popular public pathway to Carbon Beach — even though his building permits were conditioned on a guaranteed public right-of-way. Geffen lost his years-long legal battle to get rid of that pesky […]

Snob Zones wins two awards


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I’m honored to announce that my book, “Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice and Real Estate,” has won two awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE). NAREE named the winners of its annual Bruss Book Awards at its conference in Houston, TX last Friday. I was very pleased to attend and receive the Bruss […]

Survey: Americans strained by housing costs


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Six in 10 Americans believe the government ought to be doing more to generate affordable housing, both for rent and purchase. So finds an eye-opening new survey conducted for the MacArthur Foundation. The survey of 1,355 adults reveals considerable stress throughout the country over the cost of housing, even though the housing crisis brought on […]

Portland looks to Airbnb for housing funds


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  The Airbnb home-share service may be great for finding a reasonable vacation rental, but sometimes those rentals come at the expense of long-term tenants who were turned out. The web service enables people to advertise their own homes for rent or book someone else’s home. It has lured landlords and investors, who are kicking […]

The whys of opposition to affordable housing


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A survey of affordable housing developers in the state of New York confirms that they run up against opposition early and often. Rooflines, a blog about housing issues, has been running a series of posts about the results of a survey of 74 for-profit and non-profit developers. For the most part, the findings about opposition […]

Snob Zone contender: Oyster Bay, NY


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When a community gives the green light to an affordable housing complex, can they set a condition that existing town residents and their children be given preference for that housing? Plenty of communities do it — and not always for the noblest of reasons. Sometimes they truly want to preserve the housing for the need within […]

High rents devouring minimum-wage paychecks


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$18.92 per hour — that’s how much a full-time worker has to earn in order to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in the United States. Think about it: high rents demand earnings of more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. That figure comes from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual […]

Time to tie beach repair funds to public access?


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Beach towns along the Jersey Shore are notorious for discouraging day-trippers. It’s easy to keep “outsiders” from finding their way onto the beach — just make it illegal for them to park their cars. So when these same towns apply for taxpayer-funded assistance to repair and protect their beaches from storm damage, should they get […]

Why NH needs a law protecting Section 8 renters


(UPDATED AT END) After writing about opposition in New Hampshire to a proposed law banning discrimination against renters who have been victims of domestic violence, I began thinking about the other half of that legislation: banning discrimination against renters with Section 8 vouchers. I was pretty sure landlords wouldn’t be so bold as to say […]

NH landlords fight protections for domestic abuse victims


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Landlords in New Hampshire are in an uproar over proposed legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against domestic abuse victims. The bill, which has passed the House Judiciary Committee and may soon be put to a full vote, would simply add domestic violence victims to the categories of classes already protected against housing […]

Ct. co-housing “an invasion of the very worst sort”


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  A Connecticut lawyer who once defended the rights of protestors to construct a tent city on New Haven’s historic town green has taken a less tolerant attitude toward another group of free-thinkers who want to construct a co-housing community in his own town of Bethany. In a scathing column published in the New Haven Register, […]

The insanity of zoning out density in Chicago neighborhoods


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  The city of Chicago is guilty of “insane” zoning, according to an urban policy enthusiast who expounds on the subject in Crain’s Chicago Business. Daniel Kay Hertz, who is pursuing a master’s in public policy and blogs about urban issues at City Notes, argues that it’s ridiculous that the majority of Chicago neighborhoods zone […]

Affordable living in shipping container homes


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  Shipping containers have been housing humans for years, often as part of elaborate modern designs. But more builders are experimenting with using the corrugated metal boxes to create inexpensive, comfortable, single-level housing. The folks at faircompanies.com recently posted this video about a shipping container home project in Salt Lake City. In this case, converting the […]

In Darien, Ct., a new claim in discrimination lawsuit


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  A new filing in the civil rights lawsuit against Darien’s planning and zoning commission and its former chairman, Fred Conze, claims that Connecticut’s Housing Commissioner has information to support the allegations of discriminatory behavior. The lawsuit alleges that, in 2009, the wealthy suburb’s zoning commission rejected an affordable housing application by a former resident, […]

Chappaqua, NY: no hamlet for affordable housing


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The wealthy Westchester County hamlet of Chappaqua, home to such professional liberals as the Clintons and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, is all in a tizzy about 28 units of affordable housing, according to today’s New York Times. A three-year-long battle has raged over the four-story project, which would be built on a vacant lot […]

Discrimination rampant in leasing of Denver apartments


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  African-Americans and Latinos who go apartment hunting in the Denver metro area are more likely to experience discrimination than not in high-opportunity neighborhoods where whites are the majority. That is the rather startling conclusion of an investigation conducted by the Denver Metro Fair Housing Center. The center found alarmingly high rates of discrimination after sending […]

La. secession effort enabled by exclusionary zoning


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Kudos to Slate‘s Matt Yglesias for pointing out that restrictive zoning makes a mockery of the concept of “public” schools. Yglesias was responding to a news report from Louisiana about a wealthy Baton Rouge neighborhood’s shameless efforts to secede from the public school district so they can keep their tax dollars all to themselves. Aside […]

Maine town reconsiders rationale for four-acre zoning


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Now here’s something you don’t see everyday — or even every year: A New England town that is contemplating reducing its minimum lot size for single-family homes. The Portland, Maine suburb of Cumberland (pop. 7,000) is debating whether their four-acre zone really makes sense anymore. About 4,200 acres in the town are zoned for four-acre […]

Iowa City shoots the fair-housing messenger


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Iowa City officials commissioned a University of Iowa research center to study obstacles to fair housing choice in the city. But apparently they didn’t expect the research center to actually find any. After reviewing the final draft of the report, the indignant city manager said the city will not pay the $3,500 balance it owes […]

San Francisco anti-eviction campaign lists “dirty dozen” landlords


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Tenant advocates in San Francisco are outing the city’s so-called “serial evictors,” landlords and speculators who are emptying buildings of their tenants in order to convert them to more profitable uses. The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project began by charting the tidal wave of evictions in a city that, according to one recent study, boasts one of the […]

Are eviction rates contributing to poverty?


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A Harvard University researcher has identified eviction as a cause, not just a byproduct, of poverty. Matthew Desmond, an assistant professor of sociology and social studies, has spent years studying the urban poor in Milwaukee. According to an article in Harvard Magazine, he is one of the few researchers to delve into the subject of […]

Moving co. says Americans pursuing cheaper housing options


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Atlas Van Lines’ annual snapshot of how Americans are reshuffling themselves is out. The map here summarizes the findings. Orange states are losing people, blue states are gaining people. In red states, it’s a wash. The upshot is that people are moving to where they can find cheaper housing options – primarily the Sunbelt and […]

LGBT adults seeking gay senior housing


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A growing need in affordable housing: gay senior housing complexes. The country’s second gay senior housing development just opened in Minneapolis, according to the Associated Press. Called Spirit on Lake, the complex has 46 apartments for people who earn no more than $28,500 a year. (The first, Triangle Square, is in Hollywood, CA.) The complex […]

Affordable housing can also be attractive


Oakland housing

Gizmodo has a great piece showcasing innovative, well-designed affordable housing developments in six major cities. The photos alone put the lie to the usual assumptions that all affordable housing is ugly. One great example: The buildings pictured here, in downtown Oakland, CA, were repurposed from old hotels to transitional housing for the homeless and very […]

Boarding house rules: reasonable to ban kids?


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A New Hampshire landlord who included a “no kids” policy in his boarding house rules claims he was just looking out for kids’ best interests. Nevertheless, the US Justice Department is suing the man, Bruce R. Edwards, for violation of the Fair Housing Act. I have to say, this is one of those cases that may […]

Chris Christie: not cowed by court


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  New Jersey’s Fair Share Housing Center won the most recent battle over the landmark Mount Laurel doctrine, but their war with Governor Chris Christie’s administration continues. Yesterday, the center filed another lawsuit. Almost three months ago, the state Supreme Court gave New Jersey’s housing agency, the Council on Affordable Housing, five months to come […]

Robert Astorino: Zoning doesn’t keep people out


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Robert Astorino, New York’s Westchester County Executive, announced at a Capitol Hill luncheon this week that, contrary to what the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (and decades of historical evidence) would have you believe, there is no such thing as exclusionary zoning! “What [HUD] is saying is communities have used zoning to keep […]

Rental affordability: bad and getting worse


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The portrayal of America’s rental market in a new study from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing is akin to a big red flag. No surprise that the number of renters is up significantly this decade — the tsunami of foreclosures after the market collapse forced one-time homeowners into rentals, while the prolonged recession prevented (or […]

Snob zone contender: Garden City, NY


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A federal judge has confirmed what African-American and Hispanic communities have claimed for years: the Village of Garden City, on Long Island, has fashioned zoning regulations that discriminate against minorities and the poor. In a decision that comes eight years after community groups sued the village and its board of trustees, US District Judge Arthur […]

States spending millions on motels for homeless


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The deep cuts in federal housing subsidies brought about by sequestration aren’t necessarily saving taxpayers money. States and cities dealing with rising numbers of homeless families will pay millions this winter to house them in motel rooms. The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts’ emergency shelters are overwhelmed by record numbers of homeless families (even as […]

Now in Woodstock’s backyard…


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Sometimes opposition to affordable housing comes from the most unlikely of places. Such was the case with the town of Woodstock, NY – yes, THAT Woodstock.* When an affordable housing complex was proposed there a decade ago, the arts colony’s laid-back, liberal, live-and-let-live ethos proved illusory. Opponents unceasingly questioned why a little town like Woodstock should […]

San Francisco landlords cashing in


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Here’s the quote of the day, from a New York Times article describing how Silicon Valley techies are taking over San Francisco. The newly rich are throwing so much money around that they’re pushing the most expensive housing market in the country even further out of reach of the average worker. Building owners are cashing in, and […]

Homeless mother wins Section 8 discrimination settlement


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A formerly homeless mother of six who sued a housing authority in northern Connecticut just won a stinging $350,000 settlement in the Section 8 discrimination case. The lawsuit, which is described in my book and a story I wrote for The New York Times, alleged that the Winchester Housing Authority was using a residency requirement […]

It’s me, in DC


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Guess where I was this week? In Washington DC, giving a talk about my book at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. I was honored to be invited to be part of the Fair  Housing division’s speaker series.The series is webcast live to HUD offices across the country, and archived on YouTube. Here’s […]

Housing on holy ground


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Churches are answering the prayers of affordable housing developers and providing them with what they need most: land. A growing trend in areas where land is scarce and pricey, the deals can be a win-win for both congregants and developers. In Arlington, VA, for example, the Arlington Presbyterian Church wants to tear down its steepled […]

NY, SF voters react to income inequality


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A post-election takeaway: voters in the two most expensive metropolises on the east and west coasts sent a clear message that they are not willing to cede their cities to the wealthy. In New York City, in what some interpret as a rebuke to the business-minded Bloomberg years, populist candidate Bill DeBlasio won overwhelming support […]

Mad about mixed incomes


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Opponents of mixed-income housing developments often ridicule the notion that higher-income earners will voluntarily live next door to those of lesser social status. Well, a  successful mixed-income development on Capitol Hill shows that much of that willingness depends on the housing’s design and location. The Washington Post reports that 14 years after the Townhomes on […]

America: all in for diversity?


(Spiva Arts, via Flickr)

When it comes to attitudes about the relative benefits/penalties of rising diversity and inequality, differences between whites and communities of color are more ideologically focused than racial or ethnic. So concludes “Building an All-In Nation,” a new survey of about 3,000 Americans from the Center for American Progress. The survey’s authors are happy to report […]

Kid-free or die


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I call it the Vulgaria syndrome.* Using local zoning authority to keep kids out of New England suburbs. A New England Center for Investigative Reporting story documents the anti-kid sentiment in Massachusetts communities, showing how towns block multifamily housing that might bring children into their property-tax-reliant schools. Multifamily housing proposals that somehow make it through the […]

Interlopers in Greenwich, Ct.?


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Under growing pressure from the state to do something about the racial imbalance in town schools, Greenwich, Ct. officials decided to confront the problem head-on: they went on a hunt for illegal students from the freeloading families rumored to be driving them across the border from less privileged communities in New York. Checking residency is […]

The “other” next door


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A new Trulia survey on what Americans think about their neighbors helps explain why suburbanites are so afraid of affordable housing, particularly when it comes to rentals. The “people like us” preference comes shining through their responses. Trulia surveyed about 3,000 American adults who live in both suburban and urban settings. While a solid majority reported […]

Mobile homes feeling the love in Massachusetts


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Massachusetts municipalities trying to get out from under the state’s affordable housing law — the much-maligned Chapter 40B — are pleading with lawmakers to allow them to include mobile homes in their tally of affordable housing. Towns must have a housing stock that is at least 10 percent affordable to be exempt from the law, […]

Substandard housing linked to behavioral problems


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Housing quality matters more than affordability when it comes to a child’s well-being. That’s the conclusion of a recently released MacArthur Foundation study that followed 2,400 low-income children and teens in Boston, Chicago and San Antonio for six years. Researchers from Boston College and Tufts University tracked families’ housing situations by several measures: quality, stability, affordability, […]

Mayor Bloomberg: housing shortage a “good sign”


Mayor Michael Bloomberg
(Credit: Rubenstein, via Flickr)

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York, on the city’s affordable housing shortage: “Somebody said that there’s not enough housing,” he said. “That’s a good sign. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem, but there are no vacancies. That will bring in investment, for people to build for all income levels, different kinds of […]

Wine country housing wars: St. Helena, Ca.


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The Napa Valley isn’t only fertile territory for vineyards and day spas. It’s also a breeding ground for fights over affordable housing. Like its affluent neighbor, Marin County, Napa County has been notoriously resistant to encouraging development of cheaper housing for the people who wait on tables, clean hotel rooms, work the fields and mow […]

Tiny homes for the homeless


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Local officials in Madison, Wisconsin have amended their zoning code to allow non-profit organizations to build tiny homes for the homeless on their property. Their decision to accommodate residences no bigger than a backyard shed is part of a tiny trend — Portland, Oregon sanctioned a “transitional campground” of cottages known as Dignity Village (as well […]

NY’s wager: supportive housing = Medicaid savings


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A new supportive housing complex that just broke ground in the Bronx comes courtesy of – ready? – New York’s Medicaid funds. That’s right — the state is investing some $7 million in Medicaid money in the project, called Boston Road. The rationale is that by providing stable housing and service supports for high-need New […]

Has the U.S. chosen inequality?


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Without a doubt, argues Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, Columbia University professor, and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Unless the U.S. changes course, we all face a grim future, he warns in a recent commentary for the New York Times‘ Opinionator blog:   …I see us entering a world divided not […]

New England has largest house lot size


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More evidence of New England’s aversion to density: Census Bureau data shows that house lots in New England continue to far outsize those in the rest of the country. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the bureau’s Survey of Construction found that the median lot size for single-family homes started in 2012 was […]

Greater Boston’s single-family zoning straitjacket


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A new report on the state of the Greater Boston housing market zeros in on zoning as a primary obstacle to production of much-needed multifamily housing. To quote (the report, not my book, although the messages are largely the same): Once in place, single-family zoning has proven difficult to modify or change in any substantive […]

America’s least affordable housing markets


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Newsflash from Trulia: Manhattan is the least affordable housing market in the country. Not a surprise to those of us who live in the New York hub, but new Trulia data shows just how far out of reach Manhattan has become. A middle-class household in the  New York area earns around $56,000 (the local median). Buyers […]

Romney beach house plan causes stir


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Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney is being accused of trying to take something that’s not rightfully his: the beach. Romney and his wife, Ann, are seeking approval to tear down their 3000-square-foot oceanfront home in the La Jolla section of San Diego, and build a new beach house nearly four times larger. Here’s the official […]

A gated community goes super-gated in Ohio


The Suarez home
Credit: Stark County Auditor's website

If good fences make good neighbors, then Benjamin D. Suarez and his wife, Nancy, must be exceptionally fine neighbors. The Akron Beacon Journal reports on the direct marketing whiz’s home within the exclusive gated community of Glenmoor Estates (formerly the site of a seminary), in northeast Ohio’s Jackson Township. Within that gated community, he built […]

Affordable rentals in Connecticut? Good luck


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Making the case for affordable housing involves lots of numbers — home sale prices, average rents, household incomes, etc. It can be dry stuff, and people don’t like dry stuff. People like to play video games. So the Partnership for Strong Communities, a housing advocacy group in Connecticut, is now getting its point across with […]

Gov. Christie’s housing defeat


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It’s no secret that Gov. Chris Christie isn’t a fan of affordable housing. He has vowed to gut the state agency that oversees housing policy. And his administration wants to seize $165 million in housing funds collected by towns for use in the general fund. But he can’t shake one of his pet peeves: the […]

Quote of the day


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In case you missed it: The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has proposed a new rule detailing how communities receiving federal grants should fulfill their obligation to “further fair housing” — that’s bureaucracy-speak for locating and promoting housing in ways that foster integration, not segregation. To aid in these efforts — and here’s […]

Boarding houses in the Seattle ‘burbs


Bellevue, Washington

Credit: By Jelson25 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

An emerging trend in the Seattle suburbs: investors are meeting the demand for affordable housing by buying up single-family homes and converting them to boarding houses. Local officials are trying to curb the trend with ordinances that restrict the number of unrelated adults living in one house. The latest community to adopt such an ordinance […]

Meanwhile, back in Darien….


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Anyone who has read my book, or at least the Salon excerpt , will undoubtedly recall Chris and Peggy Stefanoni. They are the controversial couple in ultra-rich Darien, Ct. who for eight years have infuriated fellow residents by proposing below-market-rate condominium projects in predominantly single-family neighborhoods. Well, in August, the conflict took an unexpected turn […]

Co-housing in Connecticut?


Co-housing community in Colorado

Welcome to Snob Zones, a forum for exploring how and why communities keep people out, the social consequences of exclusion, and possible solutions. First up: resistance to co-housing. Non-traditional forms of housing can be a hard sell, particularly in New England, and especially when they involve density. A case in point is the ongoing campaign […]