Jurisdictions across metropolitan Washington are continually working to create and transform communities, making improvements for current residents while providing choices for prospective residents and their families.
Any local government which receives federal funds that can be used for affordable housing, such as Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) or HOME funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is required to incorporate fair housing goals into their community development and planning. This key part of the Fair Housing Act aids the work of jurisdictions in prohibiting discrimination, reducing disparities in access to community assets, and promoting fair housing choice.
In 2015, HUD announced a new rule to enrich this process. Jurisdictions large and small will be required to conduct an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) to support their planning efforts to accommodate future housing needs. Fair housing plans will inform where and what kind of housing will be created and/or preserved to ensure that there are opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, and incomes to choose where they wish to live.
In this age of data, area governments are grappling with the best approach for collecting, analyzing, and presenting this information to reflect the realities of their housing markets.
COG, in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners and the National Housing Conference, hosted area housing directors and key staff members for a conversation about their data needs and to share strategies in preparation for this assessment. HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Katherine M. O’Regan hopes the process empowers jurisdictions to turn data into action, because “no child’s ZIP code should determine her opportunity to achieve.”
The District of Columbia, represented by Housing and Community Development Director Polly Donaldson and Senior Development Advisor Danilo Pelletiere, noted that they are in the very early stages of thinking about the assessment. In Arlington County, Housing Director David Cristeal and Senior Housing Planner Russell Danao-Schroeder discussed their annual rental and vacancy surveys, which will continue to be a key data set for informing their fair housing reviews.
COG’s Housing Directors Advisory Committee Chairman Jesse Buggs directs grant development for the City of Bowie, a city without regulations regarding the provision of affordable housing. He’s seen firsthand the power of fair housing to provide inclusionary zoning, but said he is concerned about the staffing and financial challenges his office will face as a small entitlement jurisdiction tasked with meeting the HUD requirements.
Dan Pontious, Housing Policy Coordinator for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, shared his experience working on an assessment of fair housing on a regional level. Baltimore was one of the first cities in the nation to consider fair housing from a regional perspective in 1996. The resulting plan—Opportunity Collaborative—recommends policy initiatives to address the region’s unmet housing need for 70,000 low-income households, including 14,000 people with disabilities.
Enterprise Community Partners’ Tiffany Manuel noted that when you discuss challenges to achieving fair housing, there is often an assumption of mobility – as in, “if you can’t afford to live here, move out” of the jurisdiction. Mobility, she said, does not solve the crisis of housing affordability in a high-cost housing region.
The group discussed how they might also work together to “push the envelope” further when it comes to fair housing. Sharing data, they determined, could be a way to move incrementally into regionalism.
This discussion among the region’s Housing Directors will continue at the May COG Housing Directors Advisory Committee, as the group examines their different reporting cycles to see if an opportunity exists to realign and report as a region.