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Hurricane Sandy and New Jersey’s Poor

N.Y. Times, Dec. 23, 2013

By the Editorial Board

Civil rights groups in New Jersey filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in April charging that the state plan for distributing Hurricane Sandy recovery aid discriminated against blacks and Hispanics who lost their homes in the storm. In September, the Fair Share Housing Center, an advocacy group, sued the state, alleging that it was withholding public information that would show whether low-income and minority citizens were being discriminated against.

The center now says it has evidence showing that black and Hispanic citizens who seek assistance are being turned away in disproportionate numbers. Its data show that 38.1 percent of African-Americans and 20.4 percent of Hispanics who applied for resettlement grants were rejected, against only 14.5 percent of whites. The group says that it found a similar outcome among people who applied for reconstruction or rehabilitation grants: 35.1 percent of African-Americans and 18.1 percent of Latinos were rejected, compared with 13.6 percent of whites.

The center says that its data show low application rates by minority citizens, which might suggest problems with either the state’s outreach efforts or with the application process itself. Gov. Chris Christie has dismissed the center as a “hack group” that deserves no response. His Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the housing recovery effort, says the charge of discrimination is “outrageously false.”

The numbers by themselves do not prove discrimination. But the Christie administration has a poor record when it comes to supporting housing for the poor. Mr. Christie has tried to undermine the state’s affordable housing laws since he took office and would have dismantled the independent agency that promotes affordable housing had the New Jersey Supreme Court not barred him from doing so earlier this year.

Given that record, federal housing officials need to take a close look to see whether New Jersey is operating in a nondiscriminatory fashion.

© 2013 The New York Times

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