Civil Rights

Fair housing rule helps local leaders counteract persistent segregation

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH) upgrades a forty-year-old law with tools and techniques to better advance fair housing goals and access to opportunity in every community. Sadly, there is an effort this week to hamstring AFFH through inserting a rider into the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill. The opposition ignores the fact that the rule was developed in response to city- and state-level requests for better tools and improved guidance; that it involved significant input from local-level innovators and experimenters; and that it was piloted in 74 regions nationwide over five years in the Sustainable Communities initiative through a tool called the fair housing and equity assessment (FHEA).

Local leaders who participated in pilot programs found that the FHEAs enabled them to better understand their fair housing issues and how they could help connect low-income families to greater opportunity through housing, transit, education, and other community assets. St. Louis’ FHEA revealed that Housing Choice Vouchers were concentrated in low-income neighborhoods with little access to good jobs. The assessment helped the city revamp its program to help residents in finding housing choices in higher opportunity neighborhoods. Salt Lake City, Denver, St. Paul, and Dallas have all invested in affordable housing in transit-oriented developments to ensure that residents would have access to affordable transit and housing choices.

{mosads}The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a momentous step in redressing overt housing discrimination—the too common practice which allowed for the rampant segregation and disinvestment of both urban and rural communities to endure. While the law required HUD to conduct programs in such a manner that “affirmatively furthers fair housing,” the definition of that phrase had never been clarified enough to reach the full potential of its effectiveness in promoting equal opportunity.

AFFH equips local communities to meet their decades-old fair housing obligation. Through fair housing assessments, it institutes a data-driven analysis of community conditions and barriers to opportunity, including factors that contribute to areas of racially concentrated poverty, high unemployment, and health disparities (e.g., school performance, transportation access, and toxic air pollution exposures). It requires resident engagement on fair housing and community development issues, making municipalities more responsive to community priorities for investment. It also guides jurisdictions to align their federal funding—Community Development Block Grants, HOME funds, public housing financing, and other HUD program funds— to address any inclusion challenges that are identified in the process.

This is a powerful tool to correct longstanding patterns of discrimination and build opportunity for all. It does not take away local control of community planning and development decisions, nor does it reengineer communities by mandating zoning changes or initiate gerrymandering.  Rather, the rule encourages local governments to leverage federal resources to develop their own solutions for furthering fair housing choice and addressing barriers to opportunity.

The guidance and data provided by HUD empowers program participants and local leaders to develop tailored, cost-effective planning and investment solutions that will ultimately strengthen disinvested neighborhoods. And equally important—it helps connect low-income families to affordable, healthy, thriving communities of opportunity.

Kalima Rose is the Senior Director of the PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity. Lisa Cylar Barrett is the Director of Federal Policy and Co-Director of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink.


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