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New report by University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and Reinvestment Fund researchers advocate using fair housing law to promote racial and economic integration

May 17, 2021

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and the Reinvestment Fund have released “An ‘All-Out’ Effort to Achieve Desegregation and Equality of Opportunity: Assessment of Fair Housing 2.0.,” a pathbreaking research brief that proposes the use of fair housing law to work toward the end of segregation. In the report, authors Provost and James S. Riepe Presidential Professor of Law and Education Wendell E. Pritchett GR’97, Erica V. Rodarte Costa L’22 and Reinvestment Fund’s Ira J. Goldstein and Emily S. Dowdall GCP’09, emphasize that the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) provision of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is an obligation that attaches to all federal agencies, not just to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The brief rests on the premise that the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which was passed more than 50 years, still “has yet to achieve the impact that its framers hoped for.” The authors find that segregation remains a problem even in cities such as Philadelphia, where although residential racial desegregation has declined in the last decade, metrics still place the city in the “highly segregated” category.

They recommend using the Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH), a planning tool created by the Obama Administration that helps implement the AFFH, “as a framework to significantly increase racial justice through a coordinated approach to racial and economic integration in American communities.”

To determine what was successful about how localities addressed fair housing through the AFH, which was rolled back during the Trump Administration, the authors conducted structured interviews with former HUD officials, local housing officials in New Orleans, Houston, Kansas City (MO), Indianapolis, and Philadelphia, and fair housing experts and advocates.

“[W]e propose that the Biden Administration’s revived AFH should, at least in part, reaffirm the goal of making all communities opportune places – and clarify that the purpose is not to just bar subsidized housing production in, or help people depart from places that now are not,” the authors write.

Based on the data collected, the authors identify three concrete action steps:

  • provide additional financial and expert assistance to communities so they can create a righteous AFH;
  • improve the quality of the data and mapping tools but not require the use of a Housing of Urban Development (HUD) tool where local data/analytics are better; and
  • clarify that a manageable set of meaningful data-based goals support an actionable and righteous AFH.

The authors also stress the importance of an “all-of-government” effort to ensure fair housing and equal opportunity for all – first acknowledged by Congress in writing the FHA in 1968.

“The inter-agency commitment necessary to fully achieve the Act’s goals has never been achieved, but with new-found commitment and dramatically expanded investments, now might be the time that we finally make significant progress towards integrated and flourishing communities,” the authors write.

The brief outlines suggestions for a new and improved AFH, which they call AFH 2.0, starting with the best place to increase federal-state-local coordination: the Domestic Policy Council (DPC), “the only entity with a facilitation responsibility over all the agencies that is necessary to achieve these goals.”

Moreover, the authors argue that “comprehensive investment in neighborhoods where subsidized housing is already concentrated can make these areas opportune for development, as well.” While community commitment to racial justice is critical to success, they write, “the federal government can facilitate this commitment by providing resources, support, and coordination that will enable local communities to flourish.”

Pritchett previously served as Chair of the Redevelopment Authority of Philadelphia and as President of the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation. Rodarte Costa is a Toll Public Interest Fellow at the Law School.

Reinvestment Fund brings financial and analytical tools to partnerships that work to ensure that everyone has access to essential opportunities, including affordable places to live, access to nutritious food, and health care, quality schools, and strong local businesses. Since its inception in 1985, Reinvestment Fund has provided over $2.4 billion in financing to build and strengthen communities and social enterprises.

Goldstein is President of Policy Solutions at Reinvestment Fund and a Lecturer at Penn’s Urban Studies Program. Dowdall is Policy Director for Reinvestment Fund’s Policy Solutions group and a Lecturer at Penn’s Urban Studies and City Planning programs.

Read the full brief.