Today, a child born to a low-income family and raised in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans will have beaten the odds if they live past age 67. They can also expect to make just $20,000 a year by the time they reach their thirties.
Just a 20-minute drive away, in the Uptown/Carrollton neighborhoods near Tulane and Loyola Universities, that same child could expect to live 20 years longer and take home roughly $53,000 more in annual salary.
These communities are just six miles apart, yet designed and resourced in such a way that there’s a world of difference between the lives their residents can hope to have. Being raised in different neighborhoods can determine everything from the jobs you have access to, the schools your kids attend, and the groceries you can buy.
In 2015, the Obama administration created the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to fix this disparity. But Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has moved to indefinitely delay implementation and is proposing drastic changes that analysts predict will all but gut its efficacy.
Why This Matters
While the idea of furthering fair housing appears in the 1968 Fair Housing Act, it wasn’t meaningfully enforced over the last half century. So under the 2015 rule, communities that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are required to develop action plans to not only remedy their existing racial and ethnic segregation and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, but to also ensure that every U.S. community is equipped with the resources and opportunities to meet their residents’ housing needs.
As nationwide data released this month grimly reinforced, the neighborhood or ZIP code you grow up in, more than ever, has a dramatic impact on whether you earn more or less than your parents did. Researchers found this impact is particularly acute for black boys who, regardless of their families’ income, face the worst outlook for escaping poverty, building wealth, and doing better than their parents.
This is merely one aspect of a racial wealth gap that has persisted since the formal founding of this nation. Today, a typical black family with an income of $50,000 lives in a poorer neighborhood than a white family earning $20,000. Government-sponsored public policies intentionally crafted to hold back people of color and cut off their communities from wealth-building opportunities, through practices like segregation and redlining, continue to drive these disparities.
What the Rule Was Starting to Do, Before HUD Attacked It
The 2015 rule was meant to begin addressing this man-made problem. And early results were promising. As Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor of Law and Urban Planning, Justin Steil, pointed out, several municipalities were beginning to create meaningful, measurable goals as part of the new rule.
For example, New Orleans committed to developing 400 units of affordable housing in Tremé, a neighborhood near the French Quarter that is quickly gentrifying, and Seattle proposed expanding its housing affordability requirements into new areas of the city.
Other regions’ goals included increasing access to existing opportunities, such as Chester County, Pennsylvania, which committed to building 200 affordable housing units in neighborhoods already well-resourced with good jobs, quality education programs and health care services, as well as access to other essential amenities such as grocery stores, parks, and community centers. Paramount, California proposed changing its zoning codes to increase housing accessibility for people with disabilities. Wilmington, North Carolina’s goals prioritized workforce development via job training and placement programs tailored to its local economy.
Dozens of communities had submitted plans under the rule. And yet HUD suddenly and without warning removed a key assessment tool from its website in May that communities were using to shape their goals.
Carson cites a “high failure rate” of analyses submitted by communities among his reasons for delaying the rule, but that justification isn’t valid. Of the 49 analyses that communities submitted to HUD between 2015 and 2018, 65 percent were accepted immediately. The remaining 35 percent were returned to communities with detailed guidance about how to fix the problems; almost all have since been corrected, re-submitted, and accepted by HUD.
This degree of success is remarkable considering the rule was being newly implemented. And, contrary to Carson’s reasoning, the fact that a few of the initial submissions were sent back to communities for corrections signals that the new rule’s standards are exacting and meaningful, and should not be interpreted as evidence of failure.
Indefinitely suspending the rule and eliminating the federal assessment tools that have been helping local communities fight segregation as well as identify, increase and ensure fair housing opportunities for all means HUD has brought this long-overdue and much-needed progress to a halt.
America continues to grapple with the ongoing byproducts of state-sanctioned separate and unequal neighborhoods that set their residents on very disparate and divergent achievement paths. The rule that the Trump and Carson HUD aim to derail and ultimately demolish is designed to tear down those longstanding structural barriers and shrink the ever-widening gap between the haves and have nots.
It is important to keep in mind that the rule is not only focused on stopping segregation and discrimination but also on actively investing in neighborhoods where people currently live so that those communities are well resourced. The bottom line is that people should not be forced to move away from their community and existing social networks in order to access the basic supports necessary to have a good life.
The department is required to accept public comments until Oct. 15 about these proposed changes. Any member of the public — individuals, organizations, or community groups — can submit comments and let their voices be heard on the importance and fate of this equity tool.