The Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) is leading efforts to advance federal policy on fair housing and is working “to promote innovative, research-based advocacy strategies to address structural inequality and disrupt the systems that disadvantage low-income people of color.”1 Philip Tegeler, the president and executive director of PRRAC, contributed his insights on the current state of fair housing 50 years after the landmark Fair Housing Act during a recent Philadelphia Fed Research Symposium. Cascade sat down with Tegeler to learn more.
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did your career in fair housing begin?
I began my career in fair housing after law school, working with Paul Davidoff at the Metropolitan Action Institute in New York City. There, my work focused on application of advocacy planning principles to civil rights litigation. I assisted Paul with expert testimony in several fair housing lawsuits, one of which was the United States v. City of Yonkers case that addressed intentional housing and educational segregation. After I left New York, I worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Connecticut, where I specialized in housing and school segregation cases. Much of the work I did there focused on public housing agency reform and exclusionary zoning and housing policies in suburban towns.
What has been the impact of federal housing policy on outcomes we observe today in low- and moderate-income communities?
Many of the problems we see today are built on a legacy of policies from the last century, during the pre– and post–World War II period, when the U.S. government aggressively subsidized and insured suburban subdivisions that carried requirements that these areas not include African American residents.2 It is also the result of actions where we intentionally denied credit access to racially mixed areas of cities through redlining.3 This, combined with massive federal investment in highways and suburban infrastructure, created metropolitan structures that are highly unequal. Richard Rothstein has done a wonderful job of pulling together all of this history in his recent book, The Color of Law. But the point is that we are still living with these structures in 2018, and they continue to impact politics, policy, and people’s housing and education choices.
Current federal housing programs overlay the pattern laid down in the last century. Even if we were to completely reform federal housing programs so that they are actively promoting integration, it would not be nearly enough to undo the legacy that we have created. Most American cities are stuck in a highly segregated pattern inherited from the 1940s –1970s. The partial exception is in some of our coastal and global cities, where market forces are out of control and we have a pattern of gentrification and displacement and a resegregation of the poor away from emerging areas of opportunity. These trends are also a legacy of segregation and disinvestment — they are two sides of the same coin.
In your opinion, what are the most pressing current challenges in advancing fair housing?
There is a continuing need to desegregate areas of concentrated poverty, but this needs to be done in a way that respects residents’ basic dignity and human rights and does not reduce the overall affordable housing stock. In the Northeast, tight urban areas are still living with the legacy of 20th century government-sponsored segregation. This is true and quite evident when it comes to communities in Connecticut and upstate New York. It was my work in Connecticut that initially led me to examine how federal policies continue to drive segregation at the local level.
While there was significant progress in fair housing policy made during the Obama administration, many federal policy programs such as low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), housing choice vouchers, and public housing redevelopment programs like HOPE VI and Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) continue to drive segregation in housing.4 For example, while HOPE VI was effective in deconcentrating poverty by demolishing old public housing units and replacing them with mixed-income opportunities, it also produced a loss of low-cost units, and it forced the displacement of low-income families from their communities. In all, many of the legacy federal affordable housing programs and projects are still being administered in the same manner as they were when they started and are in need of significant reform.
Despite these challenges, there has been some progress. Some states and localities are allocating LIHTC credits to create units in low-poverty areas. Adjustments to Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) are changing the ways that rents are calculated to open up opportunities for more families across areas. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule has the potential to spark change at the state and local level, although unfortunately, the rule was recently suspended by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — a lawsuit is pending to reinstate it.
Describe some of the approaches that PRRAC and others are promoting to address these challenges.
Among the three federal housing programs mentioned (LIHTC, RAD, and housing vouchers), there is a need to improve LIHTC so that affordable housing opportunities are created not just in areas of high poverty but also in areas of high opportunity. For the Treasury Department to bring the program into compliance with the AFFH mandate, it would need to direct the use of tax credits to reverse patterns of segregation in metropolitan areas. That would mean forcing the development of LIHTC housing in high-opportunity, low-poverty areas and the use of strong affirmative marketing to attract families to come live in those developments. It would require eliminating local approval for LIHTC properties and creating a significant set-aside of funds for development in low-poverty communities. This is at odds with the department’s basic approach of delegating LIHTC administration to the state level.
For the housing choice voucher program, there is a need to make SAFMRs mandatory in more metropolitan areas. HUD and local housing agencies should also direct funding for housing mobility counseling to families in the most segregated areas, especially those with young children. Federal policy could expand source of income protections to more states so that families will not be turned away because they are using a voucher, landlords in high-opportunity areas should be given incentives to accept voucher recipients, and public housing agencies should be measured by stronger performance standards to ensure they meet racial and economic integration goals.
Public housing redevelopment programs need stronger requirements for the location of replacement housing outside high-poverty areas. The RAD program gets this partially right: While the program allows current residents to have the right to return to a redeveloped unit, public housing authorities (PHAs) still have the option of placing all the replacement housing units in the same high-poverty neighborhood as before, even if many residents would have preferred to live in a different neighborhood.5 Improving policies to require that PHAs create significant portions of replacement housing in areas of high opportunity can create the choice that residents need to advance their opportunities, whether that be in their existing community or a new one.
Finally, as a society, we have disinvested from low-income neighborhoods, and there needs to be substantial reinvestment in those communities. That doesn’t mean just creating more low-income housing in these already saturated neighborhoods, it means investing in commercial and retail properties, jobs, schools, parks, and other amenities to make better, healthier, and safer places to live. We need to think about this at a much bigger scale than we have previously.
What are some communities that are doing this work well?
The Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership (BRHP)6 is a great example of a highly effective housing mobility program operating at scale throughout the region and implementing best practices in the housing choice voucher program. BRHP is the administrator for the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program, which is providing pathways to opportunity for low-income Baltimore households through access to expanded housing, education, and employment options in high-opportunity areas. Almost 4,000 families have been assisted with voluntary moves from public housing to scattered-site, high-opportunity areas throughout the Baltimore region.
There is also some great work happening at the King County Housing Authority in Washington to promote housing mobility and to deconcentrate its voucher program by acquiring existing multifamily housing in high-opportunity areas of the county. The National Housing Trust (NHT) is now developing a similar high-opportunity housing acquisition program in several metro areas.
New Jersey is a place where the LIHTC program has been administered quite well in expanding access to high-opportunity suburban communities and where advocates have been successfully using the state’s Mt. Laurel zoning doctrine to force local jurisdictions to open up to multifamily housing development.
What is needed going forward to advance fair and affordable housing?
It is important to have continued, aggressive civil rights advocacy to address exclusionary zoning as well as policies that contribute to segregation in publicly assisted housing programs. When you look at the most important housing reforms of the last 10 years, many can be traced back to a major civil rights case. Starting with Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority, which led to the first major housing mobility program, and more recently the SAFMR rule that was triggered by a 2007 lawsuit in Dallas and the AFFH rule that was set in motion by a major federal lawsuit in Westchester County, NY, there is a direct link between legal advocacy and housing policy reform. This will be a continuing part of the reform story going forward, and it needs to be supported by housing funders. I think everyone has a part to play in the process of trying to reverse our legacy of segregation. Whether you’re a housing program administrator, a developer, a private investor, or a community development financial institution (CDFI), everyone has to work together to move toward a common goal.