A project of the Center for Community Change

Housing Crackdown Jeopardizes Indian Families

We just saw this story in the nytimes- are you seeing similar housing crackdowns in your area?

By KAREEM FAHIM
Published: August 6, 2007

ISELIN, N.J., Aug. 3 — With the workweek behind him, Deepu Dass focused on a pesky bald spot in his front lawn here. As he sprayed the patch with water, urging the grass toward the perfection achieved by several neighbors, he said confidently: “I planted seeds.”

Two of his three roommates chatted behind Mr. Dass on the porch, waiting to sit down to a dinner of chicken biryani, followed by a nighttime trip to Atlantic City.

The men — all Indian immigrants here on worker visas without their families — rent rooms month to month in this white, four-bedroom Cape Cod, where the kitchen shelves are stocked with food in bulk and the walls are decorated with reminders of home. “That’s Kerala,” said Mr. Dass, pointing to a silkscreen of a village fishing scene from his home state. “They call it God’s own country because it’s so beautiful.”

There have been up to six men sharing the house, whose owners include Suresh Kumar, president of NexAge Technologies USA, a nearby software company where the tenants work. But the unusual arrangement — and the unsightly lawn — caught the attention of local housing inspectors, and in May Woodbridge Township cited Mr. Kumar for several violations, including an unauthorized boarding house and an illegal multifamily dwelling. He has until Aug. 16 to resolve the situation, which may mean kicking his workers out.

Mr. Kumar’s were among more than 300 notices of violation that the authorities handed out from January through May to homeowners in the 10 communities that make up Woodbridge Township, part of a stepped-up inspection effort the mayor announced last year. Additional inspectors were hired and given computers for quicker access to housing records. A hot line was set up for anonymous complaints. (Officials said they did not keep records of how many citations they gave last year.)

But in a twist to the familiar tales of suburban authorities breaking up illegally subdivided homes crowded with Hispanic day laborers, the mayor’s crackdown here has hit another group of immigrants: middle-class Indians who rent rooms or parts of rooms to Indian students, technology workers and others seeking a first foothold in this country.

Homeowners with South Asian surnames have received nearly a quarter of the violations, according to records provided by the township; the 2000 census showed Indians made up about 9 percent of the population, and their numbers have almost certainly grown since.

Officials say many of their investigations begin with complaints from neighbors or contractors. The inspectors have found small houses overcrowded with people who are not related to one another, but have also questioned an extended family of seven and a couple who split their house with another family.

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