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HAN Public Comments on Fair Housing Act Proposed Changes

Mobilizing anchor institutions

The Healthcare Anchor Network submitted public comments to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), expressing our opposition to HUD’s proposed changes to the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. We strongly urged HUD to withdraw the proposed rule and fully implement the current rule, which was developed over several years with considerable input from a wide variety of stakeholders. Below is the content of our public comments.

HAN is a national collaboration of 50 leading hospitals and healthcare systems building more inclusive and sustainable local economies. HAN health system members sees their roles as locally rooted institutions committed to their communities’ long-term well-being. They also understand that hospitals and health systems are critical partners in addressing housing insecurity because good health requires that all of us live in homes that we can afford. A stable place to live supports the health of all people across the life course, as well as creates thriving communities. Moreover, addressing the social and structural determinants of health, including safe, equitable, and affordable housing, helps curb healthcare costs.

Housing, health, and racial equity are inextricably linked. Today’s housing crisis does disproportionate harm to people of color. Most deeply poor renters paying more than half of their income for rent and utilities are people of color, the result of decades of discrimination and disinvestment. Nearly 11 million low-income households – roughly one in four renters – spend over half their income on rent, leaving too little for other necessary expenses like transportation, healthy food, and medical bills.

The 2015 AFFH rule was a critical step in addressing historic and ongoing discrimination; unfortunately, the proposed rule would completely undermine this work by gutting the 2015 rule and proposing a rule that ignores the legacy of segregation and practically eliminates any accountability. The proposed rule would be worse than the minimal AFFH process that existed from 1994 to 2015, which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found to be ineffective.

The Healthcare Anchor Network is specifically concerned about the following aspects of the proposed AFFH rule:

  • The proposed rule ignores segregation and housing discrimination.

    • The proposed rule does not mention segregation and barely mentions discrimination even though examining and addressing inequities in our communities should be the primary focus.
    • This change disregards the fact that housing inequities have been created and maintained through law and private sector policies. There is unacceptable ongoing discrimination in rental and mortgage lending practices limits people’s access to stable, safe housing in communities of their choice.
    • As part of the process proposed in this rule, HUD encourages jurisdictions to pick from a list of 16 pre-approved goals, only three of which pertain to fair housing.
    • The proposed rule’s approach is a drastic departure from the 2015 AFFH rule, which created a data-driven approach to assessing fair housing and planning actions that clearly defined AFFH as a means to address disparities, integrate communities, eliminate concentrated areas of poverty, and encourage compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws.
  • The proposal shifts the focus solely to affordability without attention to inclusion.
    • The proposed rule shifts the overarching goal from fostering inclusive communities to ensuring “an adequate supply of affordable housing throughout the jurisdiction.” The proposed goal does not guarantee that people with the lowest incomes will be able to access affordable housing that where they can cover their housing costs. The concern is that many areas may focus on increasing the supply of housing affordable for those at or near the area median income, not for the lowest income.
  • The proposed rule eliminates the AFFH public participation process required in the 2015 rule, disempowering the very communities that will be most impacted.
    • The proposed rule eliminates the separate AFFH public participation process, claiming that the public participation already required in the Consolidated Plan process is sufficient for addressing AFFH-related concerns and issues. However, the Consolidated Plan’s public participation process is designed to obtain input regarding housing and community development needs and assess which needs among the many have the highest priority in the five-year Consolidated Plan cycle. Identifying and assessing fair housing issues, priorities, and goals entail different concepts and may require different stakeholders.
    • The 2015 AFFH rule reasonably designed the AFFH public participation process to be separate and precede the decision making associated with the Consolidated Plan and its Annual Action Plan system.
    • The separate community participation process ensures that people who are most impacted by the fair housing consequences of housing and community development decisions have a voice in the planning process.
  • The proposal contains no meaningful enforcement of the AFFH obligation and would allow jurisdictions uninterested in AFFH to continue ignoring their legal obligation without consequence.
    • HUD proposes to evaluate jurisdictions’ success with affirmatively furthering fair housing by measuring the adequacy of the supply of affordable housing instead of looking at actual housing opportunity for members of the protected classes, which includes women and people with disabilities.
    • HUD would rank jurisdictions on their performance based on nine factors, only two of which relate to fair housing. Other factors focus on affordability, housing quality, and supply. These factors do not provide a meaningful indication of affirmatively furthering fair housing and using them to rank jurisdictions ignores the unique situations of each place.
    • HUD proposes giving high-ranking jurisdictions preference points for Notices of Funding Availability, a generally insignificant incentive, and provides no consequences to communities that ignore fair housing issues.
    • We are concerned that these changes would threaten policies that can promote housing stability and safety.
  • The proposed rule excludes public housing agencies and the millions of residents who live there. Public housing agencies (PHAs) would not have to meaningfully participate in the new AFFH process.
    • Under the proposed rule, a PHA would not have an active role in the planning process and would only have to state that it consulted with a jurisdiction regarding their common fair housing issues. The 2015 rule required PHAs to meet their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing by working with a local or state government preparing an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH), partner with other PHAs for an AFH, or conduct its own AFH.
    • PHAs are important partners for AFFH because of their role administering programs that increase housing choice, like public housing and Housing Choice Vouchers.
    • PHAs make decisions regarding project basing of vouchers, the implementation of Small Area Fair Market Rents, proposals to develop mixed-finance projects, the demolition or disposition of public housing projects, and the administration of the voucher program.
  • Because jurisdictions would no longer need to conduct a data-driven analysis of the housing barriers in their communities, the proposed rule would not increase housing choice for members of protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.
    • Jurisdictions would not be required to address the severe shortage of accessible homes or remove other barriers to independence for people with disabilities.
    • Jurisdictions would be not be required to examine any barriers to housing for immigrants.
    • Jurisdictions would not be required to address historic and ongoing patterns of discrimination, segregation, or disinvestment based on race or other protected classes.
    • Jurisdictions would not be required to identify and address barriers to housing for families with children.
    • Jurisdictions would not be required to ensure survivors of domestic violence have equitable access to housing.

For the reasons laid out in this letter, the Healthcare Anchor Network opposes this proposed rule and urges HUD to retract it and fully implement the 2015 AFFH rule.

Cordially,

David Zuckerman

Director

Healthcare Anchor Network

 

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