The bar for racial justice in housing just got lower - Metropolitan Planning Council

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The bar for racial justice in housing just got lower

Last week the Department of Housing and Urban Development gutted a fair housing regulation designed to address segregation and inequity. It’s an injury, and in the face of U.S. Congressman John Lewis’ death, an insult to those fighting for racial justice

Image courtesy Mapping Inequality, screenshot by MPC

Among the gutted requirements?: An in-depth assessment for localities to identify current conditions and factors that contribute to discrimination and a call to articulate strategies and commitments to combat housing disparities.

As the nation morns the loss of civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis, the very ideals of justice and equal rights he fought to protect have come under siege. Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) took steps to eliminate the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation, stripping federal fair housing compliance for states and municipalities to minimum guidelines for self-reporting.

The Obama administration’s AFFH rule aimed to support local leaders in correcting generational patterns of housing discrimination by investing in strategies that would build opportunity for all residents. It would require that communities receiving HUD grants examine, publicly report, and develop strategies to address the domino effects caused by discrimination in housing, so all residents regardless of race or location could reach their full potential.[1]  The new rule redefines guidance for “affirmatively furthering fair housing” activities, removing the original goal of reducing poverty and residential segregation and ending the certification process. Among the gutted requirements?: An in-depth assessment for localities to identify current conditions and factors that contribute to discrimination and a call to articulate strategies and commitments to combat housing disparities.  

We cannot continue to lower the bar on fair housing expectations in this country. Our ancestors were bullied, beaten and killed in the pursuit of justice and they are watching.

Housing is a human right. Our nation has a long and violent history of racial oppression marked by housing segregation. Restrictive covenants attached to real estate prevented Blacks and people of color from renting or buying property. Public housing communities were built and leased to intentionally separate black and white families. Redlining limited who could get a government-subsidized loan. Black and brown neighborhoods were colored red on maps as undesirable and high risk and are still plagued by lower property values.

A further threat to fair housing is a proposed update to the Equal Access Rule.  The rule was intended to ensure equal access to HUD programs to individuals irrespective of  actual or perceives sexual orientation, gender identity or martial status. Currently open for public comment through September 22, revisions to the rule threaten to walk back protections for transgender people experiencing housing insecurity. Changes to the rule would allow shelter providers to determine the services and placement of individuals based on their biological sex, physical characteristics, and “reasonable considerations” instead of respecting an individual’s gender identity. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one-third of transgender and gender non-binary people experience homelessness at some point in their life; about one-half of transgender and non-binary people who identify as Black, Middle Eastern, Multiracial, or undocumented experienced homelessness at some point in their life. HUD introduces this dangerous change at a time when these populations are experiencing an even greater risk due to increasing cases of COVID-19.

Recognizing that one jurisdiction cannot solve our region’s housing equity challenges alone, the Cook County Assessment of Fair Housing Collaborative was formed in 2019.

We know from the Cost of Segregation that Chicago’s metropolitan area is the nation’s fifth most segregated. Our segregation costs the Chicago region billions in lost income, lost lives, and lost potential each year. In other words, if the region were less segregated, it could see $4.4 billion in additional income each year, a 30 percent lower homicide rate and 83,000 more bachelor’s degrees. We literally cannot afford to ignore the impact of structural inequities. We must advance as one region interconnected by a shared future and a shared commitment to eliminate racial disparities in our housing, educational system, and economy so that everyone has the opportunity to prosper.

Recognizing that one jurisdiction cannot solve our region’s housing equity challenges alone, the Cook County Assessment of Fair Housing Collaborative was formed in 2019. Eighteen local governments and public housing agencies made voluntary commitments to pursue a regional assessment of fair housing together. This process, guided by the AFFH rule, will identify individual as well as shared commitments held by all the participating jurisdictions.  Continuing this work is an important act of resistance against the blatant disregard for the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and racially-charged statements that keep segregation alive and well in America’s cities and suburbs.

The outcry for racial justice cannot be silenced and continues to be heard in the streets of Chicago and cites across the nation. We cannot continue to lower the bar on fair housing expectations in this country. Our ancestors were bullied, beaten and killed in the pursuit of justice and they are watching.

In the words of Congressman Lewis, “Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

[1] https://www.policylink.org/blog/obama-administration-fair-housing-rule

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