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HUD Scolds Marin on Fair Housing Record

A view of Marin County and the Golden Gate Bridge
A view of Marin County and the Golden Gate Bridge
The wealthy, mostly white county agrees to research its lack of racial, ethnic and income diversity

Marin County has agreed to research why it has so few racial and ethnic 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 85 percent white.

The agreement, which was signed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, came more than a year after the agency found Marin “failed to comply” with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and two other anti-discrimination statutes.

The review found that Marin County’s federally funded affordable housing programs failed to adequately outreach to minorities and people with disabilities, failed to adequately track which ethnic groups were benefitting from those affordable housing programs, and failed to take steps to “affirmatively” ensure that low-income and minority residents are not pushed out.

“The jurisdiction has an obligation to take actions that affirm housing is fair and that there’s choice,” said Chuck Hauptman, HUD’s regional director for fair housing and equal opportunity, in an interview.

Observers believe Marin County received federal scrutiny in part because of similarities it shares with Westchester County, New York, which lies just north of New York City.

In 2009, a federal judge ruled Westchester had “utterly failed” to meet its fair housing obligations, illegally segregating minority residents into a handful of small pockets throughout the county.

“The demographics are similar,” said Caroline Peattie, housing director for Fair Housing Marin, a county-funded non-profit. “Both counties are largely white, very affluent and if you look at where people of color reside in Marin County it tends to be in just a few places.”

Housing discrimination is not unknown in Marin. In 2008, the nonprofit agency Fair Housing Marin had black and white apartment hunters with similar profiles call 25 landlords who had advertised rental property on Craigslist. A third of the landlords responded less favorably to the black callers, failing to return voice messages they left. Meanwhile, those landlords offered white callers lower rent or more flexible terms, and told them about a greater number of available units.

In its report citing Marin’s civil rights violations, HUD’s report noted that “even among its relatively small minority population, persons of Black race and Hispanic ethnicity are largely clustered in two minority-impacted census tracts,” African-Americans in the housing projects of Marin City and Hispanics in the canal zone of San Rafael.

Roy Bateman, community development coordinator for Marin County, said the county’s failure to track the race of those who benefit from federal funds and carry out systematic and multilingual outreach campaigns stemmed in part from the relatively small amount of money the county receives for affordable housing. Last year, Marin received approximately $1.7 million from Community Development Block Grants and $1.2 million from the federal HOME program to construct and maintain affordable housing.

But John Young, director of the community coalition Grassroots Marin, said the additional oversight is needed. County officials, he said, “have these old boy networks.”

As a result, he said, “the diversity of the county never grows because it’s the same people getting the same opportunities.”

Young said his biggest battle is with neighborhood groups who don’t want new, affordable housing built near them. “Nobody wants it in their backyard,” he said, and politicians are often willing to placate them."

Bateman bristled at the suggestion that Marin lawmakers are biased because they rarely approve new developments.

“We are a slow growth area” where every type of development meet with resistance,” he said. “Right now there’s a big fight over whether to allow Target to come to San Rafael.”

A version of this article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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