In recent months, the University has taken several steps toward increasing diversity on campus and furthering respect for people of color both on campus and in New Haven. The University is to be commended for an excellent contract settlement with provisions for a job-access committee, expanded training and tuition reimbursement programs for employees, and for reactivation of the Minority Advising Committee. The University ought to continue to move forward, utilizing the structures it has created in a relevant and effective way. However, one University program remains egregiously out of line with the University’s steps toward the creation of a truly integrated, empowered Yale-New Haven community. This is the Yale Homebuyer Program.
The Homebuyer Program is one of the University’s most publicized benefits, and indeed, the program’s design is worthy of praise. With the two-pronged mission of promoting homeownership and neighborhood vitality in New Haven and supporting Yale employees, the program offers University workers a full $25,000 toward the purchase of homes in New Haven. More than 500 employees have successfully purchased homes since the program’s inception in 1994.
But the program specifically excludes from its reach the neighborhood of Fair Haven, where homeownership rates are lower and vacancy rates higher than nearly anywhere else in the city. Fair Haven’s population is overwhelming minority and low-income. Fair Haven’s exclusion from the program, contrasted with the inclusion of many upper-middle-class neighborhoods, is an instance of urban redlining. The current phase of the program expires on Dec. 31 of this year. Fair Haven must be included in the next phase of the program. Only in this way can the program be both nondiscriminatory and effective.
President Levin says in defense of Fair Haven’s exclusion that the Homebuyer Program is “an expensive program, so we decided to concentrate on the area closest to campus where the demand likely would be significant.” (New Haven Register 12/12/2001) But his defense is clearly off-base. First, while the program excludes Fair Haven, which is contiguous with the Yale campus, it includes noncontiguous, upper-middle-class neighborhoods such as Beaver Hills and parts of East Rock. In fact, on a map of the program’s area, Fair Haven is conspicuous as the only residential neighborhood close to campus that is excluded. Second, the program only becomes “expensive” when people decide to use it; implementing the program only “where the demand would likely be significant” on account of expense is illogical because were there no demand in an included area, there would be no expense.
Homeownership, in addition to providing a tax base, is the most effective method by which working families can increase security and net worth. Disturbingly, New Haven homeownership has decreased dramatically in recent decades, with less than 40 percent of the New Haven population currently owning rather than renting. Even more disturbingly, only 25 percent of New Haven’s black households and 20 percent of Latino households own homes, according to census data.
These facts are especially troubling in light of the problematic relationship between Yale and New Haven’s Latinos, who make up nearly all of Fair Haven’s residents. Yale employs a quarter of New Haven’s workforce. But while 22 percent of New Haven’s population is Latino, Latinos constitute a mere four percent of Yale’s workforce; as well, blacks and the few Latinos who work for Yale are overwhelmingly concentrated in the lower labor grades. The newly-created job-access committee and expanded training programs provide excellent opportunities for Yale to remedy its relationship with Latinos, but they make the intolerability of Fair Haven’s exclusion from the Homebuyer Program more apparent than ever. It is unacceptable to attempt to diversify Yale’s workforce while not helping Latino workers purchase homes in their own communities and while furthering, rather than counteracting, the gross racial disparity in New Haven homeownership.
The exclusion of Fair Haven from the Homebuyer Program not only fails Yale’s workforce, it also fails New Haven. If Fair Haven is excluded from the program, the program cannot increase stability and homeownership in one of New Haven’s most severely struggling neighborhoods.
The solution to the problem of Fair Haven’s exclusion is simple and easy to realize: include Fair Haven in the program. No sweeping changes in the organization of the program are needed. The past 10 years have shown that the program works, that demand is high. Indeed, on account of the increased economic security provided by the recent contract settlement, demand for the program will probably increase in coming years. But the program must be extended to Fair Haven. Only then will it be possible to achieve the diversity and empowerment necessary for the existence of one unified Yale-New Haven community.
Phoebe Rounds is a freshman in Silliman College.