What are the Lessons of Fair Housing?


Previous federal initiatives, state and local innovations, and data on today’s racial and class divide tell the story  of a nation that is still struggling to affirmatively further fair housing. While the efforts from Section II of this report (“How We’ve Affirmatively Furthered Fair Housing”), both contemporary and historical, show a multitude of shortcomings, they also show the potential for effective policies and innovation. They lay the groundwork for states, regions, and municipalities, poised to pursue renewed and clarified fair housing obligations as recipients of federal funds. What follow are some of the primary lessons that emerge from research and experience.

1. Voucher to Opportunity

One traditional and effective way of affirmatively furthering fair housing is through the use of voucher programs that give people of color and low- and moderate-income families the choice of moving to high-opportunity neighborhoods. As Gautreaux and MTO show, families that choose to exercise this option benefit from greater economic opportunities, and for their children, greater educational achievements and mental and physical health, and less exposure to crime.190 Still, despite their objectives of expanding opportunity, the Gautreaux and MTO programs were flawed in that they concentrated African Americans and low-income families in high-poverty and segregated neighborhoods.191 This effectively stripped many participants in the housing voucher programs of the opportunities that could have come with moves to high-opportunity communities. It does not have to be this way, as the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program indicates. BHMP proves that, in addition to services like housing search counseling and housing quality inspection, other services such as post-move counseling, second- move counseling, and financial literacy counseling go a long way toward combating segregation and expanding opportunities.192 Municipalities can and should replicate these additional measures to ensure that their housing voucher programs affirmatively further fair housing.

2. Getting the Community Ready for Change

In addition to giving communities of color and low-income families the choice to move out of impoverished and segregated neighborhoods, municipalities should ensure that high-opportunity neighborhoods are knowledgeable and open to the benefits of integration and expanded opportunity for all. Westchester County’s resistance to its affirmative fair housing obligations is a clear demonstration of the need for this proactive approach, as well as the need for vigilant enforcement. Oak Park, Illinois, on the other hand, is carrying out a proactive strategy that has achieved substantial integration within a region that greatly needs it.193 In doing so, Oak Park is showing that a community dedicated to expanding housing and other opportunities can make exclusionary zoning and not-in- my-backyard attitudes a thing of the past. The dual tactics of promoting Oak Park to communities of color and low- and moderate-income families, while at the same time providing incentives to property owners serve as a role model for municipalities dedicated to affirmatively furthering fair housing.194

3. Inclusive Development

Mt. Laurel, Montgomery County, and Portland show the nation that municipalities can develop economically without excluding people of color and low- and moderate-income families. By creating affordable housing, municipalities can create development while expanding opportunities in education, employment, and family income, among other benefits.195 Exceptions and loopholes can undermine legislative objectives, but when applied correctly, fair share and inclusionary zoning policies work to effect racial integration, expand opportunities for people of color and low- and moderate-income families, and benefit the entire region.196 In addition, as Portland teaches us, inclusionary zoning is not the exclusive strategy for progress: regional growth boundaries can guide development in a manner that makes communities inclusive.197

4. Fair Housing for All

Advances by Seattle, Washington, and numerous states and localities show that municipalities can expand anti- discrimination protections despite the absence of federal coverage on the issue.198 While the expansion of civil rights protections is not a cure-all, it is an important tool in ensuring that efforts to affirmatively further fair housing include all.

5. Praxis

The data and findings of the Sustainable Communities Initiative in the Puget Sound region of Washington and Austin, Texas, show that collection and analysis of data are critical in addressing the fair housing needs of communities throughout the nation. The proposed HUD regulation on affirmatively furthering fair housing correctly recognizes that localized data are necessary to combat segregation, concentrated poverty, and inequality in access to community assets on a local level.199 This kind of data permits municipalities to better understand, address, and overcome inequalities in housing, education, employment, transportation, health, and sustainability.200