Category Archives: Housing Issues

Issues which impact affordable housing either locally (Washington DC) or nationally.

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DC, NYC now offering low-income tenants free legal representation

Image: Tenant rights activists rally in DC earlier this year

Eviction is just about the scariest thing that a tenant can face. It increases your risk of homelessness, poverty, and job loss. It’s more likely to happen to you if you’re a woman, if you’re black, or if you have kids. And it can set your family back for years. That’s why Washington, DC and New York City just implemented laws offering free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction.

These laws are part of a growing movement across the country, called “civil Gideon,” to provide legal representation to tenants facing eviction. It stems from data showing that while landlords almost always have a lawyer in eviction suits, tenants almost never do. In DC, 94 percent of landlords have legal representation. That’s compared to only 5 percent of tenants.

That gap produces a huge disparity in outcomes, with tenants often being evicted over minimal debts. Sometimes it’s not even a debt tenants are unable to pay–withholding rent is a common last-straw tactic for tenants who can’t get landlords to make necessary fixes. But without a lawyer to guide them, that tactic can end in eviction.

Opponents of New York City’s law, which offers free representation to tenants making up to $50,000, complain about its cost–estimated to be about $200 million each year. But because evictions so often result in homelessness, increased reliance on safety net programs, and other costs to local governments, supporters of the bill decided to run the numbers.

They found that the measure will not only pay for itself, but it will result in over $300 million of additional savings each year. Between saving tenants strife and saving the city money, it’s hard to find a reason to oppose this bill.

The DC Council agrees, and a similar bill put forward earlier this year by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) ended up being included in this year’s budget support act. As a much smaller city, the costs for DC’s program are significantly less than in New York City–the budget included $3.9 million in ongoing funds and an additional $600,000 for this year.

Tenant groups and other advocates will be sure to watch this process closely. But with widespread support, plus clear benefits for tenants and the city coffers, DC’s new effort to get free legal representation for low-income tenants should be a great success.

 

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Denver, DC make communities of color “dumping ground”

An interstate slashing through Latino communities in the name of progress. An air-polluting city truck fleet moved from a “commercially viable” gentrifying neighborhood to a lower-income black neighborhood. In the last few weeks, DC and Denver have been busy showcasing the worst of the 20th century’s development ideas—well into the 2010s.

Denver’s new renewal

In the 1950s and ’60s, a philosophy called “urban renewal” was sweeping the nation. Crumbling inner city areas, went the thinking, simply weren’t worth saving. It was better to just knock everything down and start over.

And that’s exactly what urban planners did all across the country. Block by block, city by city, the wrecking balls moved in and cleared old structures out. What determined their path, however, had much more to do with race than it did with a plan for urban growth.

The homes, businesses, churches, and community centers the planners targeted for renewal were almost exclusively owned by people of color. Many communities organized extensively in the face of this theft, and some won decisive victories. But through the use of eminent domain, American cities seized and destroyed whole communities, with the displaced, undercompensated black and Latino families left in their wake shunted along into newly built public housing facilities.

DC has its own history of this practice, with the destruction of functioning black communities along the southwest waterfront something still being felt today.

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Southwest DC in 1939, before the majority black neighborhoods were destroyed

The practice largely petered out in the 1970s and ’80s as community groups honed their resistance tactics, winning more and more victories. But Denver is looking to bring back the bad ol’ days with a new interstate expansion.

In a city that is almost 80 percent white, city planners have targeted several majority Latino neighborhoods on the edge of city limits for destruction. Fifty-six homes and 17 businesses would be razed, and the neighborhoods would be cut down the middle by a full decade of construction.

When community groups filed a complaint alleging disparate impact, the federal government admitted that was the case—but decided it wasn’t enough to force a change in plans. Residents aren’t giving up the fight, however, and you can read more about their efforts here.

DC’s pollution distribution

Unlike Denver’s throwback to another era of racist urban planning, DC’s project is part of a long line of cities putting unwanted goods in black neighborhoods. Residents of majority black Langdon Park in Ward 5 recently learned that Department of Parks and Recreation vehicles will soon be rolling into a new home in their neighborhood.

Langdon Google MapsLangdon Park and Ivy City in northeast DC. Link to Google Maps.

That was only discovered after neighbors noticed activity at the site and did some online searching. The search revealed a lease agreement for the site—and the fact that the city failed to fulfill its legal requirement for notifying residents. ANC officials, who didn’t receive their requisite 30-day notice, were in the dark.

And Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie learned that he also had been illegally kept out of the loop—after investigating, he found that the Council had already unwittingly approved the city’s plan through a 10-day passive approval period last year.

City officials admit their mistake, but they see no reason the project shouldn’t more forward as planned.

The site’s location is problematic because it adds an unwanted good to an already overburdened population. Ward 5 already contains a hugely disproportionate amount of the city’s industrial sites. What’s more, DC, like most American cities, has asthma rates that largely fall along racial lines—black children are far more likely to have respiratory issues than white children.

The addition of more smog-belching trucks to a majority black area of the city, an area that already has too much air pollution and the asthma rates to match, is the stuff of textbooks on environmental racism.

It comes just a few years after a similar fight in Ivy City, Langdon Park’s Ward 5 neighbor, where then-Mayor Vincent Gray announced plans for a new bus depot in another overburdened majority black neighborhood. Mayor Muriel Bowser killed that plan when she came into office, in a win for local residents.

But now she’s advancing an almost identical project. In explaining their decision to move DCPR from its current location in Shaw, the administration stated that the existing site is simply too “commercially desirable” to house vehicles. The burden, then, is intentionally being shifted from a gentrified neighborhood to one with a majority of people of color.

Jeremy Wilcox, the Langdon Park resident who was the first to find the lease agreement, told the Washington Post what it communicates to the neighborhood on no uncertain terms: “We are a dumping ground—Ward 5 is a dumping ground.”

The methods and the scale might be different, but Denver and DC keep putting unwanted goods on the shoulders of people of color. It’s a game American cities have been playing for far too long.

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History, Housing Discrimination, and Homeownership: A Step Towards Racial Equity

Image: An African-American farming family in the 19th or early 20th cent. Starting around this time, about 14 million acres of land was stolen from African-Americans.

Centuries of theft. Millions of acres stolen. And a denial of opportunity at every turn. The story of black homeownership in America is a mirror image of the American dream. It’s the reason the average black family in this country has just 1/16th the wealth of the average white family.

That’s why MANNA is especially intent on extending affordable homeownership to black families, and why MANNA opposes long-term affordability restrictions. Because without real opportunities for black families to build wealth, our country will never achieve racial equity.

What was stolen

The numbers are staggering. Between 1910 and 2001, black families lost about 14 million acres of farmland—a land mass roughly the size of West Virginia. That’s about 95 percent of what they once owned. This land was taken in a variety of ways—from lynchings to fraudulent tax charges, the theft ran the gamut. It continues today through a practice called “partition sales,” something used disproportionately by unscrupulous developers to separate black families from their land.

And that’s only the physical theft. Perhaps even worse is the theft of opportunity.

The American 30-year mortgage was born in the 1930s, and with it the dream of homeownership as a pathway to a middle-class life and economic stability—for white people, that is. Mortgages were essentially unavailable to black people until the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

As anyone who’s ever been introduced to the concept of compounding interest will tell you, a forty-year head start will make a difference. Since the wealth of homeownership is passed down along family lines, white families got wealthier with each successive generation, as at the same time black families were losing millions of acres of land.

And although the Fair Housing Act opened significant new opportunities for black families, opportunity theft remained rampant. Practices like block busting, where speculators intentionally drove up and then crashed the value of a neighborhood that was becoming majority black, and modern day redlining, where banks steer families of color away from houses they could afford in majority white neighborhoods, continued and continue to exacerbate the disparity.

With the crash of the housing market in the late 2000s, another truth came to light: black families, regardless of income, were more likely to be given predatory subprime loans than white families. Translation: you were better off buying a house as a poor white family than a wealthier black family.

Where we go from here

We’ve only scratched the surface of discrimination in homeownership—and homeownership is only one kind of asset, and assets are only part of the story on wealth building, and wealth building only works if…

You get the picture. Interest isn’t the only thing compounding in this story.

What this all adds up to is a situation in which the average American white family has 16 times the wealth of the average black family. In the DC area, it’s an incomprehensible 81 times the wealth. For every $1,000 of worth a black family has, a white family has $81,000.

But it’s not a hopeless scene. A report last year from Demos found that even without any other changes, equalizing racial homeownership rates would shrink the racial wealth gap by almost a third.

Wealth gap and homeownership rates

And that’s where MANNA sees its mission. Affordable homeownership opportunities are, for black families, an essential opportunity for moving towards racial equity.

That’s why MANNA opposes long-term affordability restrictions that require homeowners to sell to others in their income category for decades. These restrictions keep low-income families from growing their investment, often keeping them from even being able to sell to their own family members and stopping the generational transfer of wealth. Black families have to be afforded the same opportunities as white families, or the wealth gap will continue to grow.

The chance to build back some of the wealth that was stolen from and in other cases never available to people of color is not just a moral but a practical imperative for our country. To achieve a functioning society, a country that works at its full potential, we need to close the racial wealth gap.

We need affordable homeownership.

We need racial equity.

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Supportive Housing Could Be First to Go if Medicaid Cuts Pass

Even with a series of recent defections, Republicans are still working to roll back Obamacare. Various versions of their bill have all had a couple things in common—tens of millions would be made uninsured and Medicaid would be slashed dramatically.

Between trying to figure out how many people would die, how many people would lose insurance, and just how much money billionaires would save, there are a lot of pieces of this bill worth investigating. In the turmoil, however, one important component has often been overlooked: housing.

With the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, millions of people across the country gained access to healthcare for the first time. Included in that number (but often forgotten) were many who gained housing or housing stability with the expansion.

Programs like Los Angeles’ Housing for Health program use Medicaid dollars to offer mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment alongside the housing it provides to formerly homeless residents. The two parts work together—patients often can’t keep up with counseling sessions or rehab without the stability of a home, and those who receive housing without supportive services too frequently end up back on the streets.

Supportive housing, which includes a variety of social services that people may need to live outside of an institution, became available to thousands more Americans with Medicaid expansion. These programs offer help to people with disabilities, mental illness, substance abuse issues, and those recovering from homelessness.

Under the Republican plan, however, Medicaid would be rolled back—and not just to pre-Obamacare levels. GOP leadership has pushed to end Medicaid as an entitlement, meaning that states would no longer receive funding based on residents’ needs. Instead, states would get a set amount of money for each resident on Medicaid. It would then be up to the states to decide what to do with that money.

The proposed amount per person is far less than what is needed, and it wouldn’t grow with rising costs. That would create a scenario in which state governments are forced to make more and more painful cuts each year, continually shrinking the number of services they provide to their most vulnerable residents.

And experts have predicted that supportive housing could be among the first services to go.

Disability activists and others have been relentless in organizing opposition to the bill, with actions happening almost every day at the Capitol. On Monday alone, 33 people were arrested in Senate buildings and offices while peacefully sitting in to demand that Republican senators kill the bill–not an atypical day.

Because of these efforts, both the initial Republican bill and a follow-up attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement have  failed. Yet activists warn against complacency. As unpopular as the draconian cuts are with the general public, they have broad support among Republican legislators and continued action will likely be necessary to prevent the bill’s revival.

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What’s needed to afford housing in DC? $33 an hour

At the current minimum wage of $12.50/hr, Washingtonians need to work 107 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. That’s according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, entitled Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing.

The report shines a spotlight on the increasing impossibility of affording rental housing in the US, coming during a period where the portion of the population that is renting continues to rise.

It’s a crisis that is truly national in nature: not a single state has an average one-bedroom rent that is affordable to someone working 40 hours a week at minimum wage. (Affordability is defined as requiring only 30 percent or less of a household’s income.)

In the District’s overheated housing market, the situation is particularly dire. As the numbers for a two-bedroom apartment indicate, families have little hope of finding housing while working for the minimum wage. Single people, however, fair little better. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,513—more than double what someone earning minimum wage can afford.

And it’s not just those earning low wages that are affected. The average full-time wage paid to a renter in DC still leaves that worker $100 short for rent each month.

Talk of more subsidy for affordable housing is often met with immediate resistance. There’s a sense that the people who need affordable housing aren’t our neighbors, friends, and families—and certainly not ourselves. Rather, they’re some vague unknown other who probably isn’t working as hard as they should be.

Add in the fact that activists are currently fighting simply to preserve what funding there is for low- and moderate-income families, and it can be a complete nonstarter. Besides, our country already spends billions on affordable housing, and it doesn’t seem to be working, right?

As Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) notes in his introduction for the report, a full three-quarters of the $200 billion the federal government spends on housing each year goes to wealthy families through the mortgage interest deduction and other tax incentives.

That’s $150 billion in assistance for households who don’t need it. It’s time to take a hard look at our discourse around housing subsidy and redefine the makers, the takers, and the deserving. Otherwise, housing will continue to be out of reach for an ever-growing number of Americans.

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Why the Housing Production Trust Fund Needs $125M+

Late Breaking: Councilmember Bonds introduces a bill to require trust fund receives at least $120M per year.

Mayor Bowser’s budget dropped yesterday, and for DC affordable housing advocates, one number popped out immediately. The Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF), DC’s biggest source of funding for affordable housing in the city, is set to stagnate at $100 million.

That would be problematic in a normal year, but 2017 (in so many ways) is not normal. Uncertainty at the federal level has caused the bottom to fall out for many affordable housing projects. The trust fund increase is needed now more than ever.

What the Trust Fund Does

MANNA and HAT, along with our coalition partners at CNHED, have been pushing for at least $125 million for the fund. As of 2015, the HPTF had produced or preserved over 8500 units of affordable housing in a city drowning in an affordability crisis. HPTF money is often the only thing that keeps lifelong Washingtonian families from being pushed out of their city.

That alone would be enough reason to justify an increase, but it’s no longer clear that $125 million in the coming year would have a bigger impact than $100 million for this past year. Outside forces are threatening even more pain for DC’s affordable housing scene. In fact, the 25 percent increase may be needed just to keep many projects on track.

LIHTC Explained

The problem DC faces (and communities across the country) is the falling value of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, or LIHTC. LIHTC gives real estate developers a tax credit for building affordable units. Developers can then sell that credit to investors to raise the money they need for an affordable housing project. The program has been wildly successful—over the past three decades, it’s helped fund almost 2.5 million affordable units across the country.

Initially enacted under President Reagan, LIHTC enjoys strong bipartisan support. It’s especially popular because of the way it amplifies the power of federal dollars: when it’s healthy, it can gain millions more in investment than what the government gives up in lost taxes.

But President Trump’s promise to drop corporate taxes from 35 percent to 15 percent have put LIHTC’s value in free fall. Investors aren’t sure what their tax burden will be next year, so they aren’t buying as many tax credits.

To put it another way, because investors think their taxes are likely to go down in the future, they don’t want to spend money lowering their taxes now. That money they aren’t spending would normally go to affordable housing projects.

These investors are like the parents who don’t want to buy any candy until the day after Halloween, and it’s causing problems for everyone.

What DC (and You) Can Do

Ultimately LIHTC problems will need to be solved at the federal level. (There’s currently a bipartisan bill that would increase LITHC’s value by 50 percent over the next five years.) But in the meantime, DC needs to plug the hole to keep affordable housing projects from stagnating. That’s why it’s so crucial that Mayor Bowser and the Council move to increase the HPTF’s allotment to at least $125 million.

As a resident of the Great American Colony, you may not have a federal representative to call, but you do have thirteen councilmembers and a mayor who are just waiting to hear from you. As this post was being written, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds introduced a bill that would guarantee at least $120 million to the trust fund each year. Call your representatives offices and tell them that you support Councilmember Bonds’ bill and at least $125 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund this year!

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How to Keep DC From Becoming the Next San Francisco

Washington, DC and San Francisco have some striking similarities. Both are mid-sized cities with institutions (government and the tech industry) that pack a punch above their population size. Both are somewhat restrained in terms of expansion, with DC’s small, set borders, and San Francisco’s watery boundaries. And above all, both have seen extreme gentrification in recent years, with the cities growing rapidly and becoming wealthier and whiter as time goes on.

But San Francisco is undoubtedly further along in this vicious process: while DC’s average monthly rent of $1,400 for a single person is the fourth highest in the US, San Francisco’s is the highest in the world at an impressively awful $2,000+.

That allows DC residents to look to San Francisco for some lessons—or, if we’re not careful, to behold our future.

Based on these insights, we’ve got some recommendations for the city council… and for you, the reader. Read on.

What will the future hold for DC if it follows the Frisco model?

  • All housing development, including affordable housing, will be stymied as fear over housing shortages and NIBMY-ism drives irrational opposition. In the Bay Area, this has resulted in severe housing shortages at every level, not just for low-income families. Unlike San Francisco, DC is currently in no danger of a total housing shutdown. The recent explosion of luxury units and high-end condos contributed to overall supply actually outpacing demand in the District’s housing market last year. Of course, affordable housing is nowhere near keeping up.
  • Homeownership will drop even further and DC, like San Francisco, will become truly a renters’ city. Ownership rates in San Francisco have been on a multi-decade slide, with only a third of residents now owning their own homes. DC isn’t much better at a 40 percent homeownership rate.
  • In part because of rock bottom homeownership rates, displacement will move from a low-income issue to a middle class issue. Only the truly wealthy will be able to afford the city proper. That’s already the case in San Francisco, where things have gotten so bad that even good-paying professional jobs are starting to move out because the companies’ employees can’t afford the city.

“Yikes!” you say. “That’s pretty grim. What can we do to avoid all this?” Well, I’m glad you asked!

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One of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars

DC doesn’t have to go down this path—there’s still time to change. Here are some simple steps we can take to make sure the District remains home for everyone.

  • Affordable Housing: It needs to be funded and constructed like never before. That’s why we’re asking the city council to commit at least $125 million to the Housing Production Trust Fund for the coming year. And honestly, that number might not be big enough. Because of problems in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit market, a primary funding tool for many affordable housing projects across the country, $125 million is probably the new $100 million. If the council really wants to take a step forward rather than just holding even, we’ll need even more commitment.
  • Homeownership: Increasing homeownership needs to be a top priority, both because of the wealth it builds and the protection it offers against sky-rocketing rents. We’re calling on the council to keep funding the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) at $16 million, the level it was increased to last year. HPAP provides crucial down payment assistance and secondary mortgage loans to first time homebuyers in DC. That builds wealth, moves people into the middle class, and keeps long-time residents in our city.
  • An ever-broader movement: More middle-income Washingtonians need to realize that affordable housing is their issue, too. NIMBY-ism and indifference might work in the short term, but sooner or later it will catch up. We need to build a broad coalition of DC residents, new and old, of all wealth levels and racial backgrounds. (The rich benefit from affordable housing, too, by the way. Unless wealthy urbanites want to start entering the service industry en masse, it’s in their best interest to keep around the people who make cities run.)

If DC is to avoid the fate of its West Coast sister city, we need to move on funding and organizing now. Tell your councilmembers to boost the Trust Fund. Get their commitment that they’ll keep supporting HPAP. And join a local organization that’s fighting for affordable housing. Hey, we’ve got a suggestion right here.

If you would like more information about joining the Housing Advocacy Team, email Jonathan Nisly at jnisly@mannadc.org!

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As Trump Moves in, 40,000 Locked Out

Hours after President Trump moved into his new home on Friday, he was busy blocking an Obama administration initiative that could have helped 40,000 low- and moderate-income households move into theirs. It was a move that united affordable housing advocates, realtors, and mortgage brokers in opposition.

It’s an issue that can be tricky to understand, but it has broad implications for affordable homeownership across the country. Stick with us as we break it down:

  • The Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, issues loans to homebuyers who probably couldn’t otherwise afford to own their own home. They target first time homebuyers and buyers with lower credit scores. The FHA requires a 3.5% downpayment as opposed to the 20% often required for conventional loans.
  • It has wide reach—One in six single-family homebuyers in the second half of 2016 used FHA loans.
  • These homebuyers are required to purchase mortgage insurance from the FHA to make sure the agency doesn’t go under in case of default.
  • In December the Obama administration announced that premiums for this insurance would be cut by a quarter of a percentage point. That would mean a savings of about $500 per year for the average FHA homebuyer, and several times that amount for FHA buyers in the pricey DC housing market.
  • On Friday the Trump administration announced it was putting an indefinite suspension on that rate cut, leading many to believe that the administration intends to make it quietly disappear.

With us so far?

Republicans argue that the premium cut is irresponsible coming less than a decade after the FHA needed to be bailed out in the wake of the housing crisis.

But the data tell a different story. The FHA’s cash reserve in case of defaults (what’s known as the capital reserve ratio) has been exceeding requirements for two years in a row, and the Obama administration had wanted to pass those savings on to the borrowers.

What’s more, the cut could have a big impact for such a small price tag. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that mortgage refinancing applications were up 7 percent in December after the news was announced. A half-percent premium cut two years ago caused a big increase in refinancing and new mortgage applications.

And because so many potential homebuyers are right on the bubble, the National Association of Realtors estimated that up to 40,000 more households could have qualified for FHA loans with the rate cut. Some 800,000 would have seen savings. What happens to those households now is in limbo.

As interest rates rise and homeownership languishes at a 50-year low, government at all levels will need to work diligently to make sure the American dream of homeownership remains accessible to everyone. On Friday, however, the Trump administration seemed content with just making sure that the President got the keys to his newest property.

Investment Without Displacement: The Challenge East of the Anacostia

In the raging tempest that is DC’s housing market, the areas east of the Anacostia River offer a final bastion of affordability. But with prices starting to rise in this area too, more needs to be done to make sure longtime residents can stay.

anacostia

Wards 7 and 8 have increasingly become a world apart from the rest of the city. While DC as a whole has seen a huge influx of wealth and young, largely white, professionals, east of the river poverty and unemployment rates remain stubbornly high. Education levels languish, and segregation is more pronounced here than anywhere else in the District.

The silver lining for residents is that average home prices in these wards are hundreds of thousands less than on the river’s western bank, leaving a swath of affordability that is about 95% black households. Data suggest that the area has become a last source of refuge for many black families priced out of their longtime homes in other parts of the city.

But with a housing market so far out of control, nowhere in DC is safe for long. Neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8 saw some of the city’s biggest yearly price increases in 2016, and many are already speculating that there’s more to come in 2017.

This is driven in large part by a huge slate of new developments planned for the area*. While this kind of investment is clearly needed, many residents have legitimate fears about what it will mean for their ability to stay.

One of these developments, the 11th St Bridge Park project, has taken significant steps to ensure that it won’t end up forcing out the people it’s trying to serve. The project is working with MANNA on the development of affordable townhouses near the park, as well as a homebuyer’s club to prepare residents for homeownership.

Also in partnership with the park, the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) has pledged $50 million for the area to support affordable housing and community development needs. LISC’s website shows the individual projects that money goes to fund: several neighborhood festivals, a local school, and numerous units of affordable housing make up the first tenth of the investment.

The 11th St Bridge Park offers a model that can serve as a launching pad for even more community-oriented projects in the future. Without this kind of commitment, the areas east of the river will soon become just another gentrified section of our overpriced city.

 

*Hyperlink specifically for Anacostia

New HUD Rule Empowers Communities to Dismantle Segregation

Many cities, states, and counties across the country are currently working on an old project in a new way. The federal government’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH), finalized a year ago, is changing the way local jurisdictions deal with racial and ethnic segregation.

Activists in the '60s demonstrating for the original Fair Housing Act

Activists in the ’60s demonstrating for the original Fair Housing Act

AFFH is a new directive by the Obama Administration on the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Fair Housing Act was passed in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, as anger and grief exploded into riots in many poor predominately black communities across the country.

The nation’s attention was drawn to the conditions that these communities had lived in for decades. Activists seized the opportunity, and political will for action, which until that point had proved elusive, was mustered.

Almost sixty years later, however, the data show that not much has changed. The Fair Housing Act has been described as “forgotten, neglected and unenforced.” The United States and its cities are still highly segregated, and with the racial wealth gap worsening in the past decade, market forces are clearly not raising all boats.

That’s why the Administration felt the new rule was in order. Local jurisdictions will now be required to publicly report on the state of segregation in their territory, as well as the availability of services such as schools, libraries, and hospitals.

They will then be required to make a plan to address the issues they find, and their progress will be tracked over time. Local governments that fail to meet requirements will be in danger of losing all funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including highly coveted transportation money.

The new process also offers huge opportunities for involvement from community groups, with public comments available at each step of the process and the involvement of affected groups a required part of the planning.

If community groups feel that their jurisdiction lacks the will to address segregation and related issues, AFFH even allows for them to submit their own report and goals, which the federal government can then require the local government to enact.

And HUD is giving everyone the tools to get the job done. The department recently released a new mapping tool, which allows everyone from city planners to casual observers to document the challenges their communities are facing.

The ease of use that this tool affords means that governments with good intentions can better do their job and, on the flip side, less-motivated jurisdictions can be called out by their citizenry.

Job proximity in DC 1 dot = 100 people. Green dots are African-Americans, while orange dots show whites. The darker the grey background, the more easily accessible jobs are in that census tract. This map, created by the author with the new HUD tool, shows that literally no experience is required to find issues for AFFH consideration.

Job proximity in DC
1 dot = 100 people. Green dots are African-Americans, while orange dots show whites. The darker the grey background, the more easily accessible jobs are in that census tract. This map, created by the author with the new HUD tool, shows that literally no experience is required to find issues for AFFH consideration.

For instance, the map above shows that African-Americans in DC on average have much farther to travel than whites to find jobs. That’s the kind of issue AFFH wants local governments to work on.

Readers who caught last week’s piece on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) may think they see an opportunity for some cross-pollination—and they would be right. Another great aspect of AFFH is that it allows local jurisdictions to use all tools available to them to combat the problems they find.

So in this case, where predominantly black Anacostia can be seen to be lacking in accessible jobs, DC government and community groups could use the CRA to get banks to extend more small business loans east of the river, thus increasing job availability. In this way, data and goals from the new AFFH can work together with existing laws to further multiple objectives.

If that’s a little bit too wonky for you, that’s okay. The important thing is that, like the CRA, AFFH offers community groups and local governments another tool to chip away at the segregation that has been present in this country since its founding.

And that’s good news.

This post relies heavily on information from a recent training by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Check out their website at ncrc.org and find an upcoming training near you!