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"Putting CDBG Recipients "On Notice","

by Rob Breymaier & Justin Massa September/October 2009 issue of Poverty & Race

On September 22, Westchester County’s Board of Legislators voted to approve a landmark settlement to foster racial integration throughout the county. Meanwhile, it is likely that most, if not all, of the 1,200+ states, counties and municipalities across the country that receive Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are revisiting their housing and community development plans and procedures.

The Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York v. Westchester County settlement requires Westchester to make up for years of neglect regarding the affirmative furthering of fair housing—namely, addressing the impediments to fair housing choice that perpetuate segregation. As HUD’s Deputy Secretary Ron Sims noted during the press conference announcing the settlement, after nearly a decade of lax federal oversight, communities around the nation are now “on notice.”

The case makes clear that recipients of federal housing and community development funds "must comply with, inter alia, the provisions of the Housing and Community Development Act, including the requirement that it affirmatively further fair housing," which it goes on to define as pro-integrative housing policies. Long ignored and often misunderstood, affirmative furthering of fair housing has always been about promoting, fostering and sustaining integration in the housing market.

The case could not be more timely. While a significant victory for fair housing and integration advocates, the Westchester settlement is small in comparison to the benefit that proper regulations from HUD on the duty to affirmatively further fair housing may provide. Regulations currently being drafted by HUD staff are slated to be published for public comment within the next few months.

To understand the potential implications of the settlement and new regulations, take a look at the numbers. Under the settlement, Westchester County will spend roughly $50 million on affirmatively located affordable housing developments over the next five years. Annually, HUD allocates over $20 billion nationally to affordable housing through CDBG, HOME, Section 8, voucher and public housing funds. Billions more dollars in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits are used annually to finance affordable housing programs. These funds have rarely received an affirmative analysis.

Currently, regulations regarding the affirmative furthering of fair housing are vague, process-oriented, unaccountable and thus largely ineffective. Updating them to require measurable actions with targeted outcomes, subject to oversight and review, would result in powerful positive impacts. We believe these regulations should:
  1. Provide a strong definition of affirmative furthering of fair housing as housing policies that promote integration of those protected by the Fair Housing Act. Recipients must show they will develop new affordable housing in a manner that expands housing options for protected persons, particularly geographic expansion to high-opportunity communities with plentiful jobs, good schools and quality services.

  2. Require that Analyses of Impediments and Fair Housing Action Plans address systemic and structural barriers to fair housing choice. In Analyses of Impediments, recipients should be required to address how current patterns of segregation and points of resistance to diversity and integration—such as municipal zoning, industry practices and popular (mis)perceptions—limit housing choices and integration. Recipients' Fair Housing Action Plans must address measurable actions with specified goals to overcome these impediments.

  3. Afford MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) with the resources and authority to determine regional priorities and disparities regarding affirmative furthering of fair housing. Overlapping local and state recipients should be required to cite these regional issues in their analyses and plans.

  4. Clearly state that all federal community development funds should promote regional equity and greater opportunity in disinvested areas. Strategically spending economic, education and infrastructure dollars to increase opportunity in disinvested areas will balance regional development and enhance the quality of life for everyone.

  5. Improve transparency and accountability by compelling recipients to post their plans online, hold them open for public comment, and engage the community in the planning process. These are key components of the Obama Administration’s commitment to good government and will reduce the oversight burdens on HUD by empowering local fair housing advocates with critical information.
Forty-one years after its passage, we now have a chance to realize the full promise of the Fair Housing Act. HUD's forthcoming affirmative furthering regulations will determine the future of our metropolitan regions, and we hope that the drafters within HUD are taking the time and care to get them right. While many in the fair housing community are anxious to see progress, the implications of these new rules are simply too large to rush them. With more than $20 billion annually at stake, these new regulations will determine if we will begin to actively promote fairness and regional equity or continue to segregate opportunity along racial and economic lines.
For more information on the Westchester case, go to www.antibiaslaw.com

Rob Breymaier is the Executive Director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center. The Housing Center has a mission to achieve lasting racial diversity in Oak Park and surrounding communities. He is also serving as the current President of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance. rob.breymaier@gmail.com
 
Justin Massa is Executive Director of the Chicago-based MoveSmart.org, an organization that fosters vibrant and diverse neighborhoods by empowering housing seekers to move to opportunity.
justin@movesmart.org
 
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