New Fair Housing Rule Creates Great Fanfare and Hostile Critics

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently published a much anticipated new rule intended to bolster the Fair Housing Act of 1968, making it more effective than ever before. One of the most important pieces of the act was the demand that persons not only refrain from active discrimination, but, also, that they are proactive in working to “affirmatively further fair housing.” Historically, HUD has fallen short of this latter obligation, continuing to give millions of dollars in grant funds to neighborhoods participating in systematic segregation. Current levels of segregation are often viewed as unfortunate and unintentional. Fair housing advocates, though, have long rejected this logic making HUD’s new rule a real victory. The rule serves as recognition from the federal government that policy is to blame for much of our nation’s segregation problem and that policy, now, can be held responsible for its reversal.

An article published by Atlantic Cities on July 26th documents some of the misguided reactions to HUD’s proposed rule (which is open for public comment until September 17, 2013). While many of the reactions the article highlights are hurtful, most imply a simple misunderstanding. The new rule “does nothing to change the core intent of the Fair Housing Act.”[1] Rather, the purpose of the new rule is to (1) define just exactly what it means to affirmatively further fair housing, (2) ensure that those receiving funds from HUD are accurately documenting their efforts to do so, and (3) provide “data for every neighborhood in the nation, detailing what access African American families, and other members of protected classes, have to…community assets.”[2]

Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of HUD, heralded this third component as “a big deal.”[3]  Previously, grantees were responsible themselves for accruing data on impediments to affirmatively furthering fair housing. Now, HUD is taking over data accumulation and allowing their grantees to devote more resources to amending the problems that data makes visible. Additionally, if HUD amasses its own data, the department will no longer have to rely on grantees to honestly supply information on neighborhood inequities. HUD is filling the void that has existed for much too long in reporting. Now all parties have undeniable access to accurate neighborhood statistics.

However, the most damaging misconstructions the Atlantic Cities article brings attention to are not about the rule specifically, but about fair housing in general. BRHC has written several articles on the harmful effects of segregation. “Equal access to housing also means equal access to everything that housing entails: good jobs, safe communities, quality education, healthy neighborhoods, [and] nearby transit.”[4]  But it is important to note that though most arguments examine the effects on those living in low opportunity neighborhoods; in fact, those living in prosperous neighborhoods are also negatively impacted by segregation. Another article published by Atlantic Cities titled “Why Segregation is Bad for Everyone” details a study conducted by Harrison Campbell, Huiping Li and, Steven Fernandez of the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. Their research supports the theory that neighborhoods depend on all types of skills and, therein, neighborhoods must support all types of incomes. All different kinds of people are responsible for the successful functioning of a community and should be respected as such.

Fair housing champions do not advocate “diversity for diversity’s sake.”[5] Fair housing champions advocate that all persons regardless of disability, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, or familial status are of equal value and must be given equal access to high opportunity neighborhoods as this is not only right, but beneficial to society as a whole.

 

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