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Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing will Change People’s Lives and Communities for the Better

Imagine a society in which everyone can live in a healthy, well-resourced, thriving neighborhood with affordable and accessible housing options, good public transportation, ample living wage jobs, green spaces, fresh air, clean water, healthy foods, banks and credit unions, healthcare services, and access to high-quality broadband. What if every child could attend a well-resourced, high-performing school? This is precisely the society then-Senators Ed Brooke (R-MA) and Walter Mondale (D-MN) envisioned when they co-authored the Fair Housing Act which was passed on April 11, 1968 after languishing in Congress for years. The bill was enacted just seven days after the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Senators Brooke and Mondale incorporated an affirmative provision into the fair housing statute requiring any entity receiving federal funds for a housing or community development purpose to ensure underserved groups had access to important amenities and services, including fair and affordable housing opportunities.

Unfortunately for our children, we do not live in the nation Dr. King or Senators Brooke and Mondale dreamed of for us. While there are many neighborhoods that reflect that vision, in many communities, people live in areas where there is no access to decent, affordable housing, healthy foods, or well-resourced schools. Too many live in neighborhoods with toxic land, air, or water, little to no economic development, outdated infrastructure, low-wage jobs, and few or no banks or credit unions. As a result, a person’s zip code determines their outcomes in life. Everything from educational attainment, household income, net worth, health outcomes, credit scores, homeownership status, and even longevity is driven by where a person lives.

This is no accident. The disparities between who has access to critical amenities people need to thrive and those who do not have viable access to these services is nothing new. In fact, inequality was a part of the fabric of our society from the inception of the nation. Over the centuries, government officials have put in place thousands of unjust, race-conscious laws and policies that were explicitly designed to create the contrast and imbalance we see in who has access to which opportunities. In other words, we are unequal by design. Inequality is not a bug; it is a fundamental feature in our markets.

Much of the inequality in our society is buttressed and perpetuated by residential segregation – which is also by design. Policies such as racially restrictive covenants, Jim Crow laws, exclusionary zoning, and Urban Renewal, helped create segregation. Federal agencies like the Home Owners Loan Corporation and Federal Housing Administration institutionalized a biased appraisal system and redlining structures that also fomented segregation. Buoyed by discriminatory practices in the private sector, many of our communities are now hyper-segregated. In fact, we are more segregated today than we were 100 years ago.

In many respects, segregation is a bedrock of inequality because it forms a basis for determining who will benefit from certain policies or even how investments and resources are directed.  For instance, banks and credit unions are sparsely located in Black, Latino, and Native American communities. S&P conducted an analysis in which they found that banks were closing branches in high-income, affluent, Black communities at a higher rate than they were closing branches in low-income non-Black communities. Conversely, non-traditional credit providers like payday lenders, check cashers, and title money lenders are overly concentrated in communities of color. As a result, people of color are more likely to be credit invisible, unscoreable, or have deflated scores.

When it comes to climate and environmental impacts, researchers have found that, in the same city, communities of color are much hotter than predominately White communities because those areas lack sufficient green spaces and trees. Black people are 40% more likely than others to live in areas with the highest projected increases in mortality due to extreme temperature changes. Latino and Black communities have lower percentages of access to broadband services. And when they do, the infrastructure is more likely to be outdated and less likely to support high-speed internet blocking children’s ability to access educational opportunities and people’s capacity to work.

No one wants to live in a community that lacks the resources people need to succeed in our society. The Fair Housing Act’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) provision helps ensure municipalities and other entities analyze whether people can fairly access amenities and services or if people are being harmed by discriminatory housing and other practices. It also helps ensure impediments are rectified. But the AFFH provision has not been adequately enforced. To address that problem, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency with responsibility for implementing the Fair Housing Act, proposed an AFFH rule to help municipalities, housing authorities, and other agencies understand their obligations. The proposed rule provides guidelines for helping entities analyze impediments to fair housing opportunities as well as a framework for helping them develop solutions to overcome those barriers.

The AFFH rule can also help resolve the nation’s fair and affordable housing crisis. Millions of households are housing cost burdened, meaning they are paying more than 30% of their monthly income on housing expenses. Both rental and purchase housing prices have been soaring, in part because of the severe lack of affordable housing units. High housing costs are driving inflation. The proposed rule urges municipalities who wish to receive federal funding to examine zoning, licensing, permitting, and other policies that may arbitrarily impede the development of affordable housing units, carefully streamline processes, and take actions to increase the supply of fair and affordable housing.

It is imperative that the White House and federal government immediately promulgate this critical rule. People’s lives and communities depend on it. Advancing equitable opportunities benefits our whole society and can be game-changing. Researchers at Citi determined that eliminating racial inequality could increase the U.S. GDP by up to $5 trillion over a 5-year period. Implementing the AFFH rule can help promote the implementation of fair policies and practices that can make us more productive and globally competitive.

Dr. King and Senators Brooke and Mondale left our nation a powerful dream and wonderful legacy. We were bequeathed a dynamic law, that if implemented, can help create the society that every one of us would want for our children, ourselves, and those we love. My dream is that this Fair Housing Month, our nation’s leaders will put the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule into action for America’s people and communities.

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