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.
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.
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!