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The Future of Fair Housing - Report of the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity

Forty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity was convened to travel across the country to collect information and hear testimony about the nature and extent of illegal housing discrimination, its connection with government policy and practice, and its effect on our communities. The Commission held hearings in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta.

On December 9, 2008, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the Commission reported on its findings.

  Fair Housing Obligations of Federal Grantees

The current federal system for ensuring fair housing compliance by state and local recipients of housing assistance has failed. HUD only requires that communities receiving federal funds "certify" to their funding agency that a jurisdiction is affirmatively furthering fair housing. HUD requires no evidence that anything is actually being done as a condition of funding and it does not take adverse action if jurisdictions are directly involved in discriminatory actions or fail to affirmatively further fair housing.

Communities that receive CDBG funds, for example, are currently required to prepare an "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice" (an "AI") that is part of a Consolidated Plan.

Under the law, this means that the jurisdiction must conduct an analysis of housing patterns and practices to identify impediments to fair housing choice within the jurisdiction. A jurisdiction must then create a plan to eliminate the impediments.[243] HUD does not require that AIs be reviewed or approved by HUD as a condition of funding and there are no HUD regulations that identify what must be included in an AI, not even a requirement that efforts be made to reduce existing segregation, consider residential living patterns in the placement of new housing, or promote fair housing choice or inclusivity.

AIs in general should examine both government practices and private market practices to identify possible impediments to fair housing. They should require testing to examine whether or not there are forms of housing discrimination occurring in a jurisdiction.[244] The plan to implement an AI must include actions that will overcome the identified impediments.

The AI, or a similar structure, must be required, and reformed, through regulations to contain a genuine examination of barriers to fair housing—whether government induced or industry induced—and a meaningful strategy to remove those barriers. It must include a strong fair housing presence, including meaningful participation by fair housing offices and organizations.[245]

Private fair housing groups, unquestionably knowledgeable about fair housing concerns in their communities and ready, willing, and able to undertake participation in a meaningful process to identify and correct impediments to fair housing, report considerable frustration in trying to advance fair housing principles in local communities under the current system.[246] Many communities were described as having significant issues of segregation, discrimination, and exclusion, including inadequate or inaccessible housing for people with disabilities, persistent racial or ethnic segregation, inadequate communication services for persons with limited English proficiency, lending discrimination targeted at communities of color, discrimination against families with children, and other barriers to fair housing choice. The National Fair Housing Alliance estimates that less than 10 percent of the approximately 1,100 CDBG entitlement jurisdictions in the country actually have programs that really address fair housing concerns in their communities.[247]

One Commission witness, William Tisdale , described the approach of West Allis, Wisconsin:

The Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, for example, claims to affirmatively further fair housing by having a Fair Housing Board that, amongst its duties, is charged with investigating and adjudicating complaints of illegal housing discrimination. Yet, this Board meets once a year for a few minutes, at most, and Board members have publicly stated they had never seen or received copies of the West Allis fair housing ordinance. Unfortunately, HUD has imposed no sanctions on the West Allis CDBG program. What type of remedy or redress can a victim of housing discrimination expect to receive from filing a complaint with this entity?

We envision a strong, federally supported community-based system that organizes key elements in communities to direct attention to, and develop strategies for, affirmatively furthering fair housing. There are examples of strong affirmatively furthering efforts in some communities and community-based neighborhood rebuilding efforts; this system should build on those demonstrated strengths, and through coordination across disciplines, find strategies that will further fair housing principles and that are community- and region-specific.[248]

The current lending crisis provides a useful lens through which to view what could be accomplished through a focus on affirmatively furthering fair housing. Many communities across the country have been devastated by the current foreclosure crisis. The crisis reaches beyond the malignant effects on individual homeowners to reductions in the tax base, boarded up houses in neighborhoods, higher crime rates as neighborhoods are abandoned, and significant scarring of formerly vibrant communities. The data shows that African-American and Hispanic communities have been disproportionately affected by the expansive effects of the meltdown. Federal funds, including those allocated under the Troubled Assets Relief Program and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, are federal funds; the federal agencies, including the Treasury Department and HUD, are subject to the affirmatively furthering obligation, as are the beneficiaries of the funding, including lenders and communities. Yet there has been almost no discussion of the obligation in Congress.

Many witnesses mentioned poster contests, bus cards, and other public education strategies as the sole fair housing product of CDBG funded communities. While public education is an important part of developing inclusive communities, basic education is not a substitute for a carefully developed plan with action items, timetables, and strategies to advance fair housing, reduce segregation, and take positive steps to address barriers to fair housing choice in government and industry activities.

A government-wide interdisciplinary effort to remove racial and ethnic segregation and advance fair housing principles is essential to achieve the kinds of communities that are truly inclusive.[249]

Next Section: Strengthen Fair Housing Compliance by Federal Grantees


Footnotes

[243] Fair Housing Planning Guide at 1-2.

[244] Id.

[245] Testimony of William Tisdale (Chicago) at 5.

[246] See generally Testimony of William R. Tisdale (Chicago); Kathy Clark (Chicago); Frances Espinoza (Los Angeles); Amy Nelson (Los Angeles); Constance Chamberlin (Atlanta); James McCarthy (Chicago); James Perry (Houston); Lauren Walker (Los Angeles); Jose Padilla and Ilene Jacobs (Los Angeles); Cathy Cloud (Houston).

[247] Testimony of Cathy Cloud (Houston), at 19.

[248] "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Policy and Recommendations" (Boston exhibit); see also Oral Testimony of Blair Taylor (Los Angeles). See, e.g., Hous. Opportunities Made Equal, Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing in Richmond, Virginia (Oct. 2006), http://www.richmondgov.com/departments/communityDev/docs/RichmondAI.pdf; Fair Hous. Ctr., City of Toledo, Ohio, Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing, 2005, http://www.toledofhc.org/Tol_AI_2005/Toledo_AI_2005.html.

[249] Testimony of Elizabeth K. Julian (Atlanta).

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Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund   Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law   NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund   National Fair Housing Alliance
  The Future of Fair Housing
Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, NFHA has partnered with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund to create a national, bipartian fair housing commission to investigate the alarming state of U.S. housing in the wake of the subprime housing debacle.
On December 9, 2008, the commission released its findings and recommendations in this comprehensive report.
Appendices
Appendix C: Commissioner Correspondence on Foreclosure Relief Implementation
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