In July, HUD released the new rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, providing critical regulatory contours to the Fair Housing Act’s mandate to affirmatively further fair housing. This rule is important because, if carried out correctly, it could change the way we do the business of housing creation - infusing it with important considerations of equity and generating a more economically vibrant Connecticut. The effectiveness of this new regulation relies on three things (1) HUD’s willingness and ability to enforce it, (2) the motivation HUD grantees to comply with it, and (3) the ability of local and regional advocates to bring gaps – glaring or otherwise – to the attention of HUD during the critical public comment period.
What the Rule Does
At its core, the new rule replaces the current weak and somewhat vague obligations certain HUD grantees have to assess and remediate barriers to fair housing with a more targeted reporting and action step process. Under the new rule, grantees must submit an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH), which is informed by a public engagement process and must rely on housing and community indicator data provided by HUD. The AFH must include specific goals for addressing fair housing barriers that result in meaningful actions and are adjusted to reflect progress made and obstacles encountered.
Significantly, the new rule requires a regional approach to housing planning and that fair housing goals be incorporated into other planning instruments.
To provide a real world example, suppose that after reviewing the data provided by HUD, a jurisdiction found that the bulk of its subsidized housing was located in one area of town or in just a few areas of the state (if a state grantee) and those area were also under-resourced, disproportionately high poverty, and racially concentrated. In its AFH, the jurisdiction's goals to address these inequities should include both infusing such struggling areas with targeted resources and generating housing opportunities in a more geographically balanced manner. Making such fundamental changes necessarily requires three ingredients.
First, HUD’s willingness and ability to oversee the AFH process will play a large role in how effective the new rule will be. With over 4000 jurisdictions and housing authorities receiving the relevant funding, monitoring compliance will require resources and commitment at the highest levels.
The next question is how motivated grantee jurisdictions and housing authorities will be to conform to the requirement's of the new rule. Even though HUD has committed to provide extensive data through a user-friendly interactive tool, housing authorities anticipate that the rule will generate new compliance burdens and staffing demands. It will require a level of technical assistance from HUD to grantees to produce solid AFHs. In some instances, HUD must be willing to withhold funding if grantees do not comply with their obligations under the rule.
Advocacy On the Ground
Perhaps the most critical component to realizing the full potential of the new AFFH rule is the role of advocates both leading up to the submission of a grantee’s Assessment of Fair Housing and monitoring grantee performance in attaining goals and objectives once the AFH is in place. In particular, local advocates must focus on critical data that will not be included in HUD’s assessment tool. For example, here in Connecticut we are fortunate that the state invests millions of dollars of its own money in affordable and subsidized housing creation. Data on these investments will not be part of HUD’s tool. Advocates must ensure that such data are collected and included in the AFH. Likewise, in at least the initial version of HUD’s data tool, housing that is restricted to elderly residents is not distinguished from housing that is open to all. Given the racial and age dynamics in Connecticut, that distinction can create some serious fair housing issues when analyses available from other sources show a strong propensity of suburbs to allow elderly housing but not housing where anyone, including families, can live.
Another important role advocates can play is ensuring that a regional lens is incorporated into to every grantee’s AFH. Without advocates playing such roles, higher opportunity suburban grantees will tend to look only at very local housing needs. Similarly, lower opportunity grantees will be likely to limit their strategies to create true choices in housing to those that can be executed within their borders.
Working together, HUD, grantees, and advocates can generate Assessments of Fair Housing that are meaningful and produce significant positive changes across Connecticut. The question is, are we up for the challenge?