How to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing


In addition to the case studies described in Section II of this report (“How We’ve Affirmatively Furthered Fair Housing”), additional examples from around the country offer a deep reservoir of policy solutions that municipalities can pursue to uphold their obligation and benefit all of their residents. These recommendations, long heralded by policy experts and academics, are now being advanced by fair housing and community organizations across the nation. They include inclusionary zoning, ensuring housing and other opportunities, community land trusts, expanding fair housing coverage, adopting more sensible policies relating to drug use, improving the quality of affordable housing, equitable distribution of natural disaster relief, and anti-displacement measures.

1. Inclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary zoning is one way that a municipality can encourage or require developers to allocate a certain percentage of new housing units as affordable for low- and moderate-income households.201  Such policies have been used in Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other jurisdictions.202 Mandatory inclusionary zoning policies, although often more politically challenging to achieve initially, have created more affordable housing than voluntary programs.203 It should be noted, however, that different municipalities have different market dynamics and as such, applicable strategies will be needed.

The details are extremely important here. On May 5, 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an inclusionary zoning policy for the next ten years, under which developers must include a certain percentage of housing units for low- and moderate-income households in buildings that benefit from zoning changes that lifted previous height restrictions.204 Under the plan, which will build 80,000 new units of “affordable” housing and maintain 120,000 existing units, 30 percent of new apartments will be allocated for “moderate-income” households earning $67,121 to $100,680; and 20 percent will be allocated for “low-income” households earning $25,151 to $41,950.205

The Real Affordability for All Coalition, an alliance of tenants’ groups and community organizations, has called this “50/50” plan an improvement of the city’s previous “80/20” split, or as they called it, “a policy of subsidized housing for the city’s wealthiest residents.”206 Housing advocates argue, however, that in high cost areas such as Manhattan, half of new housing units should be allocated for low-income households that earn between $24,000 and $48,000; and that in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs, new apartment units should be split 50/50 between low- income households and households making up to approximately $80,000.207 The mandatory inclusionary zoning plan, advocates contend, should also cover households making less than $24,000, including the city’s working poor and minimum-wage workers.208

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Photo courtesy of Diego Iñiguez-Lopez

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), which also advocates for inclusionary zoning, recommends policies under which at least one-third of housing units must be affordable for families earning 50 percent, 60 percent, and 80 percent of the area median income (AMI).209 GNOFHAC suggests including housing for families making below 50 percent of the AMI.210 It also recommends that New Orleans allocate 5 to 15 percent of market-rate units as affordable. By doing so, the city would not only equitably distribute affordable housing, but it would also create and improve opportunities for communities of color and low- and moderate-income residents.211

In short, municipalities should develop inclusionary zoning policies while ensuring that they are allocating housing units for low-income households and that the housing is truly affordable for low-income communities, including in high-opportunity neighborhoods.

2. Ensuring Housing and Other Opportunities

There are multiple ways for municipalities to ensure that low-income voucher holders move toward opportunity.

The Baltimore Housing Mobility Program has shown that voucher programs can help families from high-poverty areas move to and remain in low-poverty and racially diverse neighborhoods by providing additional resources, such as post-move counseling, second-move counseling, and financial literacy counseling; and allowing vouchers to be used in entire metropolitan areas.212 In Dallas, the Inclusive Communities Project’s Mobility Assistance Program has been successful by providing mobility counseling, including information about areas that have less racial segregation and concentrated poverty; locating available housing units; and providing financial assistance with landlord deposits, security and utility deposits, and other moving expenses.213

The Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) recommends multiple ways of linking voucher programs to health, education, and employment.214 It recommends that programs: ensure the healthfulness of apartments beyond current standards;215 use health as a criterion for determining high-opportunity neighborhoods; and incorporate health into life skills workshops, which are already offered by some voucher programs.216 PRRAC also recommends that programs: use the quality of schools to help determine high-opportunity neighborhoods; inform parents and students about the resources of their new schools; connect families with academic opportunities; bridge cultural divides between families and their new schools; help with college preparation and placement; and promote parental involvement.217 For employment, PRRAC recommends that voucher programs: assess their clients’ needs and provide responsive resources (for example, asking what training, transportation, or childcare services are needed to sustain employment); determine the best route to self-sustainability for each household (by comparing what educational or vocational options will create opportunity); target neighborhoods with job opportunities; consider linking transportation assistance with vouchers; extend counseling beyond a year; and connect families with services and institutions in their new neighborhood.218

In addition to improving housing mobility programs, the Chicago Fair Housing Alliance recommends “affirmative marketing strategies.”219 Affirmative marketing strategies promote an area to groups that are currently underrepresented, and counselors work with them to show that the community is inclusive and tolerant, and to address negative preconceptions that underrepresented groups may have.220 Affirmative marketing also ensures that an area’s current residents understand fair housing laws, the benefits of fair housing, and the rights that they provide to people seeking housing.221 The affirmative marketing strategies include promotional materials in all forms of media, targeted marketing to underrepresented groups, and addressing “not-in-my-backyard” attitudes that are hostile toward diversity.222 Oak Park Regional Housing Center has implemented affirmative marketing by engaging and providing tangible benefits, including matching grants to improve the rental units belonging   to private landlords who receive trainings and market to underrepresented groups.223 PRRAC recommends incorporating affirmative marketing into Low Income Housing Tax Credit and other housing programs.224

These strategies can attract people of color and lower-income households to high-opportunity neighborhoods while developing a more welcoming environment in those communities.

3. Community Land Trusts

Another promising approach worth considering that uses fair housing policies as a means of community development is community land trusts. Community land trusts are nonprofit, community-based organizations that enable community ownership of land and are used primarily for long-term affordable housing and sometimes commercial and retail development.225 Their benefits include participatory decision-making regarding local  land use; affordable housing for low-income residents through renewable leases of land, with the possibility of homeownership; resident control, even in the face of land speculation, economic downturns, and gentrification; and a strong base for community action.226 Today, there are approximately 250 community land trusts operating throughout the nation.227

One of those community land trusts is the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), which operates in Roxbury/North Dorchester, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Boston, Massachusetts. Roxbury/North Dorchester’s diverse community of residents is nearly three-quarters African-American and Cape Verdean (72 percent), almost one-quarter Latino (24 percent), and 4 percent are white. DSNI, a nonprofit community-based organization similar to a traditional community development corporation, has, through its community land trust, established the only permanently affordable housing in the City of Boston. DSNI has also obtained the eminent domain authority to acquire abandoned parcels of land. As a result of the DSNI and its community land trust, Roxbury/North Dorchester has converted over half of its 1,300 abandoned parcels into parcels that support 400 affordable houses, community centers, a community greenhouse, schools, gardens, parks, playgrounds, a town common, and other public places.228 Instead of moving people to high-opportunity neighborhoods, this strategy seeks to anchor resources in low-income communities and use them to expand housing and other opportunities.

The success of DSNI and other community land trusts provide a strong tool for municipalities interested in incorporating community development into its strategy to affirmatively further fair housing.

4. Expanding Fair Housing Coverage

Municipalities should expand the types of discrimination that are prohibited under their own local laws. While the Fair Housing Act does not cover important types of discrimination, HUD does require that recipients of its funds comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws.229

Municipalities can therefore further fair housing within their jurisdictions by passing legislation that prohibits housing discrimination based on source of income, sexual orientation,

or gender identity, among other categories. Twelve states, the District of Columbia, and cities in eleven other states have prohibited discrimination based on source of income, including housing assistance or Social Security.230 In addition, 21 states and the District of Columbia have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 16 states and the District of Columbia have banned discrimination based on gender identity.231

Furthermore, the Right to the City Alliance recommends that cities add immigration status and former incarceration as protected classes under fair housing law.232 By expanding protected classes, cities can provide more people, including communities of color and persons with low-income, with legal protections when faced with housing discrimination.

"I sometimes wonder whether Section 8 and vouchers have become code words for something else.”

- Maria Saldaña, Executive Director, Oak Park Residence Corporation

5. Adopting More Sensible Policies Relating to Drug Use

Public housing authorities have significant discretion regarding the handling of drug issues. Too many, however, have adopted extreme policies that evict entire families for events as minor as a teenage son or daughter possessing marijuana. Even though there is no evidence that these rigid policies promote public safety, tens of thousands of families have been evicted under them. Indeed, these policies are counterproductive, expensive, and often discriminatory in their implementation.233

Groups like the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and Voice of the Ex-Offender have advocated for less punitive public housing policies.234 Public housing authorities should take heed, and at the very least, as the Center for Popular Democracy recommends, mandate the consideration of mitigating circumstances; re-evaluate evidentiary standards; make more transparent their rules regarding eviction and eligibility; offer time-limited stipulations, as opposed to permanent exclusion; and evict only as a last resort.235

6. Improving the Quality of Affordable Housing

In addition to improving equitable access to housing, municipalities should also implement policies that improve the quality of affordable housing. This is a way of affirmatively furthering fair housing through maintaining affordable housing for low- and moderate-income communities, where many are at risk of displacement during development.236

Make the Road New York recommends expanding the Alternate Enforcement Program, which targets the most substandard housing conditions of New Yorkers, so that it can have a greater citywide impact; informing residents living in such substandard conditions of their rights through the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD); overhauling the city’s Housing Maintenance Code enforcement regime and replacing it with an administrative board to increase code compliance and the collection of fines; and expanding local law so that the HPD can issue orders to correct underlying conditions.237 The Right to the City Alliance recommends implementing a proactive inspection policy to identify and address code violations in rental housing, while the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance recommends inspection of rental units for code violations on a regular basis.238

Municipalities’ fair housing policies should include maintaining habitable housing and effective enforcement mechanisms, and ensuring that communities know their rights.

7. Equitable Distribution of Natural Disaster Relief

States and municipalities should also ensure an equitable distribution of natural disaster relief, based on actual impact and restoration costs. This need is confirmed by the Fair Share Housing Center’s lawsuit and subsequent settlement with New Jersey over how the state disproportionately and improperly denied African Americans and Latinos relief funds after Superstorm Sandy.239 Similar racial disparities occurred during Louisiana’s distribution of Hurricane Katrina relief.240 Texas Appleseed’s settlement with the state of Texas in 2010 after hurricanes Ike and Dolly also shows the unmet need for natural disaster relief to reach communities of color and low- and moderate- income families.241

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Photo courtesy of Andreá Carolina Zamudio Galvis

In March 2014, ERASE Racism, based in Long Island, wrote to the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, encouraging the state to ensure that its municipalities were complying with their fair housing obligations during the distribution of relief funds. Among its recommendations were that sub-recipients of federal funds comply with their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing, including considering changed circumstances and particular vulnerabilities of protected classes. ERASE Racism recommended that cities consider a remedy for the lack of rental housing for lower-income families of color, and ways in which relief programs could further integration. It went on to recommend building supplemental affordable rental housing, as well as preserving the current stock of affordable housing. It also recommended outreach and providing information in a multilingual format and increasing awareness regarding available assistance among African Americans and Latinos.242

Similarly, Make the Road New York recommended expanding and improving outreach to immigrants and limited- English-proficient communities; comprehensive mental health services for immigrants and those without health insurance; mold remediation services for disaster victims; rent assistance for those ineligible for FEMA temporary assistance; and participatory decision-making in the recovery and rebuilding process.243

Especially as natural disasters increase in frequency, cities should take proactive steps to ensure that their natural disaster relief efforts do not perpetuate past inequalities, but instead, effect reconstruction in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing.

8. Anti-Displacement Measures

Many municipalities face the critical issue of gentrification, the process through which revitalization and reinvestment cause a sharp increase in rents and home prices in low- and moderate-income urban neighborhoods, resulting in the actual or imminent displacement of residents.244 Because of this threat, some communities have begun to focus on how to avoid displacement, offering solutions such as ordinances requiring that evictions be with “just cause,” as well as homeowner and renter protection programs that help low-income, long-time, or elderly residents stay in their homes.245

In 2002, Oakland, California, enacted by ballot initiative a “just cause eviction” ordinance that limited a legal eviction to causes such as the tenant: failing to pay rent; violating the lease after written notice was sent to the tenant; refusing to sign a new lease despite it being identical to the old one; or substantially damaging the unit and refusing, after written notice, to cease or repair.246 In New York City, community coalitions have attempted with varying degrees of success to negotiate with developers by forming legally enforceable “community benefits agreements” that, in exchange for community support of the development project, incorporate improvements such as affordable housing or living wage jobs.247 Municipalities can and should take action to avoid the displacement of their low- and moderate-income residents.

The 6 Big Wins for Social Equity Network, an alliance of social justice, faith, public health, and environmental organizations in the Bay Area of California, places its anti-gentrification, or “investment without displacement,” objective within the context of five other objectives: affordable housing, a robust and affordable local transit service, healthy and safe communities, economic opportunity, and community empowerment.248 This is important, because it suggests that any anti-gentrification effort cannot be isolated, but rather, must be part of a larger regional and comprehensive approach toward housing and community.

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Photo courtesy of Diego Iñiguez-Lopez

The Bay Area Agenda for Investment without Displacement promotes “investments and incentives to strengthen and stabilize communities vulnerable to gentrification and displacement” and recognizes that this will need coordinated regional and local action.249 It recommends that local and regional governments work toward meaningful resident leadership and influence in planning processes, so that: the vulnerable communities, particularly low-income residents, immigrants, and people of color, directly influence outcomes; the process is linguistically accessible and understandable to them; the city can demonstrate how resident priorities and recommendations are incorporated into the planning outcomes; and the process includes an environmental review.250 It recommends investing in community assets to meet low-income families’ needs, such as development that “promotes cultural and community cohesion, recognizes and strengthens existing community assets, and privileges localized needs, community benefits, and priorities.”251 It also recommends creating “complete communities” through access to healthy foods, banks, pharmacies, streetlights, bus shelters, playgrounds, or other needs identified by the community (as opposed to top-down planning).252

The Bay Area Agenda for Investment without Displacement also recommends tenant protections and preserving affordable housing, through deed restricted housing; acquisition and rehab of market-rate units; enforcing health and building codes; enacting just cause/fair rent laws; strong relocation assistance; protecting tenants in foreclosed properties; right of first refusal for current tenants; a policy against relocation due to development; and tenant and foreclosure counseling. Ultimately, the Bay Area Agenda recommends creating more affordable housing to meet current and future needs; tailoring economic investments to local workforce and community needs; and improving transportation access for those who depend on it the most.253