The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law welcomes the release of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed regulation entitled “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.”
The Fair Housing Act not only prohibits housing discrimination, but also, through an affirmatively further fair housing provision unique in civil rights statutes, directs participants in federal housing programs to take proactive steps designed to overcome historic patterns of segregation and discrimination, promote fair housing choice and foster inclusive communities. Although the provision has been part of the Fair Housing Act since it was first passed in 1968, without implementing regulations, the provision’s requirements lacked clarity, and HUD’s enforcement of the provision has been minimal until recent years. The publication of this proposed regulation by HUD is an important step towards recognition of the provision’s importance and its value in addressing the widespread residential segregation that continues to plague the United States.
The stated purpose of the proposed regulation is to “improve fair housing choice through fair housing planning, strategies and actions.” It sets forth a regulatory framework designed to clarify and systematize the standards for affirmatively furthering fair housing, provide greater technical assistance by HUD in the planning process, and require stronger accountability by recipients of federal housing assistance. It also places increased emphasis on community participation in the fair housing planning process and promotes regional planning. There will be a 60-day comment period, and it is expected to engender vigorous debate and recommendations from both fair housing advocates and the local and state housing entities responsible for affirmatively furthering fair housing. One of the top priorities of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing and Community Development Projects is improvement both in the understanding of this unique requirement of the Fair Housing Act and in its enforcement by HUD and private fair housing advocates. We will be a full participant in the debate and in assisting in the development of a final regulation.
“This proposed regulation is an important step in promoting the overarching goal of the Fair Housing Act – the ‘achievement of truly integrated and balanced living patterns.’ Providing more attention and clarity to the duty to affirmatively further fair housing will benefit the clients and constituents of the Lawyers’ Committee as well as fair housing advocates everywhere,” says Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee.
When passing the Fair Housing Act, Congress recognized that where a person lives determines his or her job opportunities, health outcomes, and educational opportunities. Unfortunately, since then progress towards providing meaningful fair housing choice and residential integration has been painfully lacking, in part because of the failure to implement the Fair Housing Act’s affirmatively furthering fair housing requirement. Greater clarity in the provision’s requirements and dedicated enforcement of this provision have long been needed and recognized.
“The Lawyers’ Committee is dedicated to improved enforcement of the affirmatively further fair housing requirement,” says Joseph Rich, director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing and Fair Lending Project. “We believe that an important element of any regulation addressing this requirement is a strong enforcement process which will promote increased compliance with the provision. To that end, we will work hard to ensure that the final regulation provides such a process.”