Ron Leshnower on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

Last week, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a final rule to equip communities that receive HUD funding with data and tools that will help them to meet long-standing fair housing obligations in their use of HUD funds. HUD will provide publicly open data for grantees to use to assess their communities.  As promised, fair housing expert Ron Leshnower has written an article that explains the impact of this rule and what it means to the affordable housing industry.  It is an easy read, written in language that makes it easy to understand the true purpose of this rule.  I suspect you will find it helpful.

HUD Breathes New Life Into the Fair Housing Act’s ‘Affirmatively Further Fair Housing’ Requirement

The ink had barely dried on the Supreme Court’s landmark disparate-impact decision when the Fair Housing Act (FHA) was thrust back into the national spotlight on Wednesday. This time, the focus was on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) announcement of a controversial rule about the FHA’s “affirmatively further fair housing” (AFFH) requirement.

What’s the AFFH requirement?

Since 1968, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has primarily served to bar housing discrimination across the United States. But it has also imposed a duty on HUD and its program participants to go a step further and “affirmatively further fair housing” by taking action to overcome historic patterns of segregation and promote inclusive communities.

To whom does the rule apply?

The rule applies to communities that accept money from HUD (for example, through participation in the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) or HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) programs).

Is the AFFH requirement new?

No. The AFFH requirement is as old as the FHA itself, however it has been largely ignored and unenforced over the past 47 years. HUD’s issuance of this new rule shows that the federal government is now taking the AFFH requirement seriously.

What’s the rule’s approach?

Under the rule, program participants must make a fair housing assessment that, according to HUD, will better enable them to take an informed approach toward meeting the AFFH requirement. HUD will provide data and maps on patterns of integration and segregation, racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, disproportionate housing needs, and disparities in access to opportunity, as well as technical assistance to help program participants adapt to this new approach. Before this rule, the approach to affirmatively furthering fair housing involved an analysis of impediments to fair housing choice and a certification that a program participant will affirmatively further fair housing.

What’s at risk for noncompliance?

HUD program participants that don’t comply with the AFFH requirement risk losing their funding. However, HUD will identify best practices and provide support to make it easier for participants to understand the new process and get questions answered, thus avoiding noncompliance.

When does the rule take effect?

The rule will take effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register, although it will be implemented in phases.

Why is the rule controversial?

Critics blast the rule as social engineering, saying it’s one thing to prevent housing discrimination but quite another for the federal government to require communities to become racially integrated. Supporters claim that the rule is simply a more effective way to carry out a mandate that was signed into law nearly a half-century ago and that meeting the AFFH requirement is essential for achieving equal housing opportunity across the United States.

Where can I get more information?

HUD maintains a Web page, www.hud.gov/AFFH, dedicated to providing resources on the rule and the AFFH requirement. From this page, you can access the full text of the rule, an official summary and fact sheet, and more.

Ron Leshnower is an attorney, fair housing trainer, and the author of the book, “Fair Housing Helper for Apartment Professionals.” You can learn more by visiting www.fairhousinghelper.com and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fairhousing.

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