BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Today’s announcement by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of new rules to combat housing segregation and discrimination marks another important step toward enabling all Americans to choose where to live without regard to their skin color.
Among other things, the new rule will strengthen public housing agencies’ incentives to adopt local policies that help more families with Housing Choice Vouchers use them to rent in safe, diverse, low-poverty areas with better opportunities. It could also encourage states and localities to adopt policies prohibiting discrimination against voucher holders and to locate more affordable housing that accepts vouchers in higher-opportunity areas. And it will do so without imposing unreasonable burdens on communities, contrary to critics’ fears.
All housing agencies administering the voucher program and other HUD rental assistance programs have an obligation to further the purposes of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The new rule explains what they must do to meet that obligation.
HUD will provide agencies — as well as states and localities receiving federal funds for community development or housing assistance — with data on racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, areas where vouchers are used and assisted housing developments are located, assets like schools, jobs, and transportation, and related factors. With public input, agencies and communities will then set their own goals and strategies, as part of planning processes that they already must undertake under other existing laws. What they can no longer do, thanks to the new rule, is simply check a box claiming that they comply with all fair housing requirements without giving any thought to the extent of fair housing issues in their area or what they are doing to address them.
This analysis will take some new effort for many, but housing agencies can reduce the minor burden by joining with a local jurisdiction, regional group, or state in their assessment.
HUD can do a lot more to expand voucher holders’ housing choices, as our recent report explains. To cite just one example, HUD can move forward quickly with expanding the “small area fair market rent” policy, which (as we discussed here) will give many communities a key tool to help voucher families rent housing in safer neighborhoods with better schools.