Wealth-based discrimination: there ought to be a law

I was part of the Housing Group at the Rochester Anti-Poverty Initiative’s planning session last year. We recommended support for a law protecting residents in the City of Rochester against unfairness in housing based on “source of income.” (So, advertisements that say, “No Section 8 NEED apply” would be prohibited. I was very glad to see Adam McFadden, a councilman, take up that cause. My recommendation on the Anti-Poverty Housing Team went even further.

I thought that people should be protected against ALL income-based discrimination.

Three examples:

EXAMPLE 1. When someone gets a traffic ticket in the City of Rochester, they go to the city traffic bureau, which has no district attorney assigned to it, and no plea bargain process… in the suburbs, if you get a traffic ticket you can negotiate with the Assistant District Attorney assigned to that court, or get a lawyer who does the same, and the points and fine are decreased. This disproportionately and negatively effects poor people who are more likely to reside and drive in the city where they live. It is income-based discrimination. Mayor Lovely Warren has pointed out the discrepancy and tried to change it (although I’m not sure why she didn’t just order a District Attorney assigned to the current court): http://www.democratandchronicle.com/…/mayor-lovel…/85250224/

EXAMPLE 2. When bail is required for people who are not a flight risk, more poor people stay in jail after arraignment than their wealthier counterparts, and lack of money for bail, and being in jail, makes it harder for them to build a case with their assigned counsel. It is income-based discrimination.


A judge in Houston struck down a bail system because it was “wealth based discrimination.” The opinion is apparently over 100 pages. That link is a summary, but I hope the Memo and Order are published soon and explain the crux of why something no one legally considers a protected class (lack of income) is unconstitutional and might be worthy of protective status after all: I think possibly it is because of outcomes of wealth based discrimination.

In outcomes, wealth-based discrimination is the dressed up exterior of structural racism.

I am defining structural racism as all those systems in place that disproportionately effect African Americans for whom future dreams (such as home ownership, quality education for their children, low victimization and avoidance of the criminal justice system) are hampered by systems and structures that have nothing to do with personal responsibility, and everything to do with those unequal systems in place. The structurally racist bail system puts poor people behind bars faster and more often than their wealthier counterparts–and poor people are also disproportionately African American.

EXAMPLE 3. State education funding formulas in New York State give too much money to rich districts and not enough money to poor ones. That’s true because property taxes pay for education, and so the rich can help themselves first and most of all. It’s also true because state funding that makes up the difference is doled out unfairly. Politicized, per pupil funding doesn’t work. When the City school needs a new boiler so the kids have heat and the Fairport school needs nothing after the property taxes come in, but they both get funded by the State, that is income-based discrimination. Both property tax funding and unfair state funding formulas account for an income-based discrimination that looks precisely like segregation in Monroe County schools, which is undeniable.

See http://www.democratandchronicle.com/…/new-york-st…/89306728/

“Wealth-based” or “lack of income-based” discrimination goes much, much further than current discussions of “source of income” local legislation advocated by Adam McFadden and others. Instead of saying to landlords, “you can’t write No Section 8 in your advertisements for housing” legislation in the city AND the County forbidding “Lack of income” discrimination could give all of us the framework required to, frankly, deplete ALL the current mechanisms by which structural racism (in housing, criminal justice, education) currently hides and thrives.