WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received overwhelming support in comments regarding its proposed “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH) regulation. The AFFH rule sets more specific guidelines on how state and local governments receiving federal housing funds incorporate fair housing policies.
The long-awaited rule has the potential to improve HUD’s enforcement of the Fair Housing Act’s mandate to address segregated housing patterns and promote diverse, inclusive communities. It implements the section of the Fair Housing Act (42 USC 3608) requiring that HUD and its state and local grantees act “affirmatively to further fair housing.” Recipients of HUD funding and grants already are required to comply with this mandate, but the new rule, if strongly implemented, could clarify state and local obligations and improve the regional planning process.
During the regulatory comment period that ended yesterday, an array of national civil rights and progressive policy organizations responded with strong support of the rule, including the NAACP, National Urban League, National Council of La Raza, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Fair Housing Alliance, Building One America, Applied Research Center, Demos, the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), and many others.
The comments of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights set the tone:
“The proposed rule reflects something that we in the civil rights community have long understood: where a person lives has a big impact on the trajectory of his or her life. Residential location determines access to schools, jobs, transportation, recreation, healthy food, a healthy environment, and much more.”
“As a nation, our diversity is a source of strength. And as the diversity of our population increases, the importance of ensuring that each and every one of us has access to the opportunities we need to succeed also increases.”
PRRAC praised HUD for following through and issuing a draft rule after three years of planning, but like other civil rights groups also urged HUD to strengthen the rule to require jurisdictions to take concrete action to decrease segregation over time:
“Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing is not just another housing policy rule – it is the implementation of a fundamental principle of our civil rights laws, written into the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to ensure that government takes proactive steps not just to prohibit discrimination, but to affirmatively reverse patterns of residential segregation – both in the implementation of its own programs and in the state and local policies and structures that continue to define metropolitan racial and economic segregation.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wrote: “When the [Fair Housing Act] was passed over 45 years ago, replacing segregated neighborhoods with “truly integrated and balanced living patterns” was a primary goal of the law. The AFFH provision is central to this goal, and the publication of this proposed regulation by HUD is an important step forward in strengthening the promise of the AFFH requirement.”
The NAACP saw the new rule as an “important step towards achieving Congress’ vision about how the Fair Housing Act should be a tool for creating equal opportunity in our country.” PolicyLink added that “the complicated and changing nature of the geography of opportunity is an indication that we need a 21st century imperative to fulfill the Fair Housing Act of 1968.”
Support for the rule (along with recommendations for modifications) also came in from influential members of the affordable housing industry, including the National Housing Conference, Enterprise Community Partners, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, National Housing Trust, and others.
As described in PRRAC’s letter, some of the key elements of the proposed rule include:
- The new rule will bring all jurisdictions into compliance with AFFH reporting obligations – replacing the current system of delay, widespread non-reporting, and lack of quality control, as noted in a recent GAO report;
- The enhanced community engagement elements of rule will bring new groups to the table and force an open discussion in thousands of communities about issues of racial segregation, “racially concentrated areas of poverty,” unequal conditions and resources in low income communities, and remedies to segregated housing patterns;
- The rule will be an exciting platform for community organizing and community engagement around fair housing in areas where some capacity exists or can be developed;
- The rule improves efficiency by consolidating fair housing planning with the HUD “Consolidated Planning process” (governing jurisdictions receiving CDBG and HOME funds, etc) and the HUD “PHA Plan process” (governing Public Housing Agencies receiving funds for public housing and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, etc); and
- The rule will push out uniform data to jurisdictions on segregation and access to opportunity, thereby enabling local officials to actually address the substantive issues raised by the Assessment of Fair Housing, rather than focusing on data gathering and analysis.