How Will Memphis Affirmatively Further Fair Housing?

 

Stacy Elliott 1

 
Stacy Elliott
HCD Graduate Fellow
Social Work

In my second year as an HCD Fellow and MSW student, my current field placement is with the Memphis Fair Housing Center at Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS). My primary ongoing project involves researching how Memphis is “affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” -this phrase used by federal government’s department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in its requirements for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) recipient communities was inspired by language in the Fair Housing Act of 1968 originally passed during the civil rights movement and later amended in 1988.

From an Analysis of Impediments to an Assessment of Fair Housing

HUD has recently determined the current practice of having cities/jurisdictions submit an Analysis of Impediments, or an AI, has not been nearly as effective as it was envisioned to be when first required several years ago. While the purpose of the AI was to create a process in which jurisdictions receiving CDBG funds could identify barriers and challenges to fair housing and then rectify those issues while promoting fair housing choice, this has proven to be difficult to implement and enforce in a vast number of CDBG recipient communities across the country. HUD has realized that it did not have the personnel to review all of the AIs submitted, that it could not provide information or inform participants of the AI process, and that there was no clear connection between the AI and community planning efforts.  Unfortunately, in many communities that receive funding to affirmatively further fair housing choice, the process has been marred by not only a lack of instruction or guidance, but also by a lack of enforcement, accountability, and oversight to monitor what communities were actually doing. In a 2009 landmark fair housing case involving New York’s Westchester County, a federal judge found the county had been making false or fraudulent claims of upholding its obligations to affirmatively further fair housing while intentionally perpetuating exclusionary zoning and other discriminatory housing practices that create segregated communities.  Although Westchester County settled the case for $62.5 million over four years ago, there are still criticisms and concerns regarding HUD’s enforcement capability pertaining to the ongoing fair housing issues in Westchester County.

Even in cities and jurisdictions that have conducted very thorough Analyses of Impediments (AI) that successfully identify several of the barriers to fair housing choice, too often these reports have not translated into any sort of deliverable action steps or plans to remedy those issues and further fair housing.  A central goal for HUD’s new proposed rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing is to replace the AI process with a more effective Fair Housing Assessment and Planning Process that intends to provide communities with better housing-related data, greater engagement with respective communities, and better guidance for program participants throughout the entire process.

Meanwhile In Memphis

The most recent Analysis of Impediments conducted for Memphis (in the fall of 2011) identified several barriers and impediments to fair housing, meaning illegal and discriminatory practices against federally protected classes, at personal as well as institutional levels. Despite the thorough identification of impediments and the resulting recommendations made over two years ago in this report, very little has been done in the way of formal action steps to address the issues identified.  As has too often been the case in many jurisdictions, no official plans for implementation nor measurable or deliverable action goals/objectives have emerged since the AI was conducted.

The local fair housing center at MALS acts as fair housing enforcement officer for the City of Memphis, and has successfully filed various suits against parties that violate fair housing laws, including a recent case of a local apartment complex that built and leased apartments without any consideration of accessibility for those with disabilities despite accessibility mandates in fair housing laws.  While the previous example and some forms of housing discrimination are blatant and obvious, most occurrences are very subtle and may even be unrealized or invisible to the victims themselves and, therefore, very difficult to prove or confront.  As part of my research, I will be interviewing directors and representatives of several organizations in our city who receive CDBG funds to provide housing or work in fields related to fair housing.  This will be a key component of a research effort to better understand fair housing trends and issues in Memphis while gathering local insights on the potential viability and possible impacts of HUD’s proposed Assessment of Fair Housing and planning process. Hopefully the future of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing in all cities and jurisdictions will be more successful than in the recent past, but it is certainly worth researching and analyzing the measures and methods by which HUD proposes to accomplish this.

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