Last year we noted the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and an era that ushered in important civil rights legislation, including the Fair Housing Act in 1968. In an exciting development on June 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fair Housing Act does not just apply to overt housing discrimination but also includes implicit discrimination under the law. Now what?
The pursuit of ending poverty and racial segregation is far from realized in 2015 despite the obligation of local, regional, state and federal programs and governments to create integrated communities. According to a study by Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon of Cornell University, the number of Americans living in middle-income neighborhoods has fallen from 65 percent in 1970 to 42 percent today. The impacts of racial and economic concentration go beyond those living in poverty—a phenomenon that my colleague Marisa Novara and I write about in this blog post and that the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is starting to research.
One item on the immediate horizon is the release of the federal rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. According to recent reports, the Obama administration and U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development are moving forward on the rule, which is expected out this month. The new rule will require that municipalities, counties and housing authorities take proactive steps to foster inclusive communities, including overcoming residential segregation and concentrated poverty, addressing disparities in access to transportation, education and economic development and so forth. The new rule will require that these entities take actionable steps toward ending residential discrimination and segregation that impacts so many families, our economy and quality of life. Rather than continue to debate how much has or hasn’t changed since the 1968 Civil Rights Act, we have an immense opportunity to embrace the new rule and ensure it is implemented well by our local and regional governments.
What does this mean for Chicago? Cook, DuPage, McHenry, Will and Lake County, the City of Chicago, 14 public housing authorities and dozens of municipalities will be held accountable for implementing strategies to promote housing choice and integration. MPC is excited that the proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule both clarifies and standardizes how jurisdictions are identifying barriers to fair housing choice and how they take meaningful steps to address these barriers. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the region’s metropolitan planning organization, continues to build off its Fair Housing and Equity Assessment, using it as a tool to analyze fair housing and its role in the regional economy through coordinated local efforts that promote improved equity and opportunity. MPC is looking forward to partnering with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and local communities to create a more equitable region.
The Opportunity Agenda, an organization dedicated to building national will to expand opportunity across America, released a report highlighting best practices, lessons learned and recommendations for states and municipalities that are required to foster equal access to community amenities and build inclusive communities. They recommend using the Housing Choice Voucher program to expand access for low-income families to low-poverty, high-opportunity communities. I’m excited to say that Chicagoland is ahead of the game in this regard and, for the past three years, the region’s nine regional housing authorities, MPC and Housing Choice Partners have been implementing a regional housing mobility program that aims to move low-income, Housing Choice Voucher families to low-poverty communities near transit, quality schools and amenities. Later this year we will be releasing an evaluation of the program with the RAND Corporation and hope to contribute to a growing understanding of how the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and housing authorities can better promote social and housing mobility.
While the Chicago region is well situated to advance efforts such as the regional housing mobility program, we are far from achieving our goals of having a strong, integrated and equitable region. In the Chicago region, 52.4 percent of poor residents live in areas where 20 percent or more of the residents are living in poverty (Brookings Institution). With the updating of the Fair Housing rule, we have a unique opportunity to build partnerships across housing authorities, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and municipal governments to coordinate investments in areas near jobs and transit and promote greater housing mobility. The Chicago region has both strong assets—including the Cook County Land Bank Authority and the South Suburban Bank Development Authority, which are targeting reinvestment in vacant, blighted land—and momentum with the City of Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance. The ordinance will require developments with tax increment financing and other city subsidy to include affordable housing.
Translating the proposed and hopefully soon updated Fair Housing rule into a set of realistic, actionable policies and programs will not be an easy task, but Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t call it the Great War on Poverty for no reason. Through proactive partnerships with clear, thoughtful strategies, Chicagoland can make fair housing a reality for everyone.