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Solimar Research

State May Step In To Fair Housing Debate

William Fulton on
Mar 12, 2017

Now that federal government seems likely to pull the plug on the federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFR), California is considering several counterveiling steps, including a state law backstopping the rule.

The AFFR rule – guideance for which was issued by the Department of Housing & Urban Development the day before the Obama Administration ended -- requires many recipients of federal public housing funds to formally assess whether their actions promote fair housing. Though the rulemaking predates the opinion, the AFFR rule will inevitably be used to implement the need to focus on “high opportunity” – i.e., affluent – areas, as called for by the U.S. Supreme Court in Texas Department Of Housing And Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 576 U.S. __ (2015).

 New HUD Secretary Ben Carson appears likely to try to unwind the rule – it was the only housing issue he ever commented on prior to his appointment – and a pair of Republican bills in Congress would repeal the rule and, further, prohibit the federal government from collecting data on housing segregation.

California is prepared to strike back, however. AB 686, introduced by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, would require agencies to “affirmatively further fair housing” in all of their activities – including land-use planning and permitting decisions.”

“Affirmatively furthering fair housing” is defined in the bill as “taking meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity-based characteristics protected by this part; and that transform racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity, while protecting existing residents from displacement.”

Furthermore, at the recent Housing California conference in Sacramento, state officials indicated that they will continue to work to implement the federal rule and also find stronger ways to promote affordable housing in “high opportunity” areas. “We are beginning to crank away and think about where our investment is going and what more we should be doing,” said Ben Metcalf, director of the California Department of Housing & Community Development.

Both the Inclusive Communities ruling and the federal AFFR rule have focused national attention on the question of how affordable housing might be more evenly distributed across all neighborhoods, not concentrated only in low-income neighborhoods. In part this policy directionis the result of research showing that poor children growing up in “high opportunity” areas are likely to do better in life.

Although the issue has generally been partisan, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, some Democrats have struggled with the issue. Many affordable housing developers and their funders have noted that their projects often stabilize housing for families in poor neighborhoods and some Democrats, such as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, have expressed similar views to Carson in saying that poor children shouldn’t have to move to affluent neighborhoods to succeed.

The California Tax Credit Allocation Committee is also working on how to work “opportunity” into its formula for low-income housing tax credits. But TCAC has pulled back on a proposed incentive-based rule to provide more points in high opportunity areas to “think about how we might want to approach this in the future,” said Mark Stivers, TCAC’s staff director.

“We are oversubscribed two-to-one,” Stivers said at the Housing California conference. “But we are probably not funding ones that are in higher opportunity areas that ones we are funding.”

Dating back to the era with Phil Angelides was state treasurer, TCAC allocates points for proximity to transit, groceries, health services, and other services. “But we have not focused on quality,” Stivers said. “Being close to a school isn’t the same as being close to a high-quality school, and the state has no determiner of what a high-quality school is.”

Sources:

Ben Metcalf, HCD Director, (916) 263-7400

Mark Stivers, TCAC Director, (916) 654-6340

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, https://a53.asmdc.org/

 

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