April 20, 2017; NextCity
In spite of the federal government’s attack on equal rights issues across the spectrum, a recent National Fair Housing Alliance report titled “The Case for Fair Housing” boldly claims, “Instead of seeing the problem of segregation as intractable, it should be seen as foundational. You can pour all the money in the world into inequities in all these other areas, but if you do not address the segregation and discrimination that are the foundation of these inequities, it will be difficult to make any meaningful progress.”
Using fair housing tools to dismantle systemic segregation has seemed a lofty dream for too many years. That changed in 2015–2016. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, et al.; the Obama administration regulations on affirmatively furthering fair housing and on disparate impact; and the confluence of myriad studies of the social, economic, educational, and health impacts of segregation made 2016 a moment in history when it seemed possible that promoting desegregation could undermine social and economic inequality in the span of a lifetime.
Then came the election of 2016, and hopes for rapid change were dashed. A recent article in Slate depicts the Nixon administration’s efforts to gut civil rights enforcement and suggests this is a template for the Trump-Sessions administration’s roll back of efforts to achieve racial justice. Policy attacks are bound to proliferate as Republican-dominated state legislatures look for ways to kneecap the advocacy networks of the past eight .
In NextCity’s “This Is What Housing Discrimination in the U.S. Looks Like,” author Kelsey E. Thomas focuses on the report’s bullet points while hinting at the blockbuster recommendations within. NFHA’s report is a refusal to give up on the opportunity created over the past decade. In fact, in the face of implacable opposition in the halls of power, NFHA redoubles its efforts. To make this vision real, NFHA calls on a wholesale reconstruction of the Federal commitment to fair housing enforcement.
- “Create an Independent Fair Housing Agency or Reform HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. A strong, independent fair housing agency could more effectively address discrimination and segregation throughout the United States. In the absence of such an organization, HUD should be restructured so that the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity plays a more meaningful role and functions effectively in its many important responsibilities.”
- “Reestablish the President’s Fair Housing Council to establish a multidisciplinary approach well suited to addressing the policies and systems that have a discriminatory impact, perpetuating entrenched patterns of metropolitan segregation.” On its face, this proposal seems like a rehash of efforts to break down silos, but imagine if this multi-issue, multi-sectoral Fair Housing Council could have the impact of a Kerner Commission by focusing the national discussion around fundamental realities of race and culture.
There are many more predictable goals cited in the NFHA report that go to the nuts and bolts of fair housing work. These include expanding funding for state and local private fair housing agencies, expanding equal access to credit, and increasing corporate and philanthropic support for fair housing. Still, the core message is defiant support for the progress made over the past eight years. Maybe that vision won’t happen under the current administration, but keep in mind that the entire NFHA report is focused on a vision of generational change.
While NFHA’s recommendations focus on the federal government, it seems to understand that they will not likely happen under the current administration, so NFHA also relies on changing the facts on the ground where people live, instead of relying on the caprice of policymakers. It highlights key factors where the nonprofit sector and individuals do have choice, including, as Thomas observes, “a need for more advocacy…that many prospective funders feel that [is] in conflict with their mission or corporate agenda to focus on fair housing…and that many of those who regard themselves as unaffected by inequities do not care that there are inequities.”
If there is an opportunity for us in these times, it is to act more boldly where we can, personally and locally.—Spencer Wells