Three Ways to a Fair Shot at Housing
HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity hosts a monthly FHEO Speaker Series to explore innovative strategies for promoting equitable and inclusive housing practices and diverse communities. Held just days after HUD released its landmark final regulation, “Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard,” the February 2013 event, All the Best Intentions: Is Affirmative Marketing Creating Integrated Communities, focused on the need for effective marketing and outreach strategies to inform target populations about the availability of assisted housing. In addition, the speakers presented practical ideas for implementing the Fair Housing Act, including the need for fair and effective local housing practices.
Professor Maria Krysan of the University of Illinois-Chicago spoke about the disparity between where people of different ethnic groups say they want to live and where they actually live. Although survey respondents have shown a strong, across-the-board preference for living in ethnically diverse neighborhoods, the research shows that these residents generally end up living in neighborhoods that are mostly ethnically homogeneous. Krysan’s research states that a key reason for this disconnect is the extent to which various ethnic groups are unaware of nearby neighborhoods that either are more diverse or are composed primarily of ethnic groups other than their own. Knowledge of all available housing markets is directly related to the marketing techniques used by both the private sector and HUD-assisted housing providers.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many residents of low- and moderate-income neighborhoods often are unaware that assisted housing may be available in more affluent or more ethnically diverse neighborhoods and do not know about the transportation, employment, or other amenities that might be available in those neighborhoods. The extent to which improved educational opportunities exist in these geographic and socioeconomic “blind spots” is the subject of a recent report by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), “Do Federally Assisted Households Have Access to High Performing Public Schools?” Krysan believes that the remedy for these blind spots is marketing that affirmatively reaches out to residents of high poverty areas, raising their awareness of nearby housing options.
Judith Liben, senior attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, explored a closely related issue: the need for more consistent and equitable procedures for applicants for public and assisted housing. Liben underscored the disparities in how PHAs handle wait lists and the awarding of public and assisted housing through video clips depicting throngs of people waiting outside housing authority offices — often overnight — for the chance to secure one of a very limited number of public housing units or, in some instances, just a spot on the wait list.
Such first come, first served policies reward tenacity and endurance but disadvantage the elderly, single parents of young children, persons with disabilities, and others who are ill-equipped to spend long hours outdoors. People burdened with language barriers, inflexible job or child care commitments, or a lack of reliable transportation are also at a disadvantage. The results of these adverse practices are particularly discouraging because they are wholly avoidable. In August 2012, HUD provided PHAs with a guide to best practices in Notice PIH 2012-34, “Waiting List Administration.”
Liben outlined other adverse practices, including notification periods that are too short, limited outreach to residents of high-poverty areas, lengthy and highly complex application forms, and notices of availability that are only accessible online. In addition to addressing these concerns, Liben recommends replacing the first-come, first served system with a more equitable process, such as a lottery. She further recommends using consolidated regional and state waiting lists, particularly in areas with numerous local PHAs, and providing guidance to nonpublic housing, project-based Section 8 owners.
Philip Tegeler, executive director of PRRAC, concluded the event by recommending that HUD implement clear and consistent performance goals for PHAs, clarify the regional definition of “market areas,” promote geographic targeting of affirmative marketing strategies, and encourage PHAs to conduct in-person briefings with members of their target audiences. Tegeler also suggested that PHAs adopt a number of best practices, including extended marketing periods, multiple public listings though both traditional and nontraditional media, and centralized regional listings of anticipated and actual assisted housing opportunities.
Links from the event’s featured speakers’ presentations:
Accessing Opportunity: Affirmative Marketing and Tenant Selection in the LIHTC and Other Housing Programs (www.prrac.org/pdf/affirmativemarketing.pdf).
Do Federally Assisted Households Have Access to High Performing Public Schools? (www.prrac.org/full_text.php?item_id=12623&newsletter_id=0&header=Current%20Projects).
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing at HUD: A First Term Report Card (www.prrac.org/pdf/HUDFirstTermReportCard.pdf).