Race, Poverty and Housing Policy

Signing of the Housing and Urban Development Act

Signing of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965

Ingrid Gould Ellen and Jessica Yager of NYU’s Furman Center contributed a chapter on Race, Poverty, and Federal Rental Housing Policy to the HUD at 50 volume I have been blogging about. It opens,

For the last 50 years, HUD has been tasked with the complex, at times contradictory, goals of creating and preserving high-quality affordable rental housing, spurring community development, facilitating access to opportunity, combating racial discrimination, and furthering integration through federal housing and urban development policy. This chapter shows that, over HUD’s first 5 decades, statutes and rules related to rental housing (for example, rules governing which tenants get priority to live in assisted housing and where assisted housing should be developed) have vacillated, reflecting shifting views about the relative benefits of these sometimes-competing objectives and the best approach to addressing racial and economic disparities. Also, HUD’s mixed success in fair housing enforcement—another core part of its mission—likely reflects a range of challenges including the limits of the legal tools available to the agency, resource limitations, and the difficulty of balancing the agency’s multiple roles in the housing market. This exploration of HUD’s history in these areas uncovers five key tensions that run through HUD’s work.

The first tension emerges from the fact that housing markets are local in nature. HUD has to balance this variation, and the need for local jurisdictions to tailor programs and policies to address their particular market conditions, with the need to establish and enforce consistent rules with respect to fair housing and the use of federal subsidy dollars.

The second tension is between serving the neediest households and achieving economic integration. In the case of place-based housing, if local housing authorities choose to serve the very poorest households in their developments, then those developments risk becoming islands of concentrated poverty. Further, by serving only the poorest households, HUD likely narrows political support for its programs.

The third tension is between serving as many households as possible and supporting housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods. Unfortunately, in many metropolitan areas, land—and consequently housing construction—is significantly more expensive in the higher-income neighborhoods that typically offer safer streets, more extensive job networks and opportunities, and higher-performing schools. As a result, a given level of resources can typically house fewer families in higher-income areas than in lower-income ones.

The fourth tension is between revitalizing communities and facilitating access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. Research shows that, in some circumstances, investments in subsidized housing can help revitalize distressed communities and attract private investment. Yet, in other circumstances, such investments do not trigger broader revitalization and instead may simply constrain families and children in subsidized housing to live in areas that offer limited opportunities.

The final apparent tension is between facilitating integration and combating racial discrimination. Despite the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA’s) integration goal, legal decisions, which are discussed further in this chapter, have determined that the act’s prohibition on discrimination limits the use of some race-conscious approaches to maintaining integrated neighborhoods.

To be sure, these tensions are not always insurmountable. But addressing all of them at once requires a careful balancing act. The bulk of this chapter reviews how HUD programs and policies have struck this balance in the area of rental housing during the agency’s first 50 years. The chapter ends with a look to the challenges HUD is likely to face in its next 50 years. (103-104, citation omitted)

The chapter does a great job of outlining the tensions inherent in HUD’s broad mandate. It made me wonder, though, whether HUD would benefit from narrowing its mission for the next 50 years. If it focused on assisting more low-income households with their housing expenses (for example, by dramatically expanding the Section 8 housing voucher program and scaling back other programs), it might do that one thing well rather than doing many things less well.

Promoting Opportunity with Development

"ArlingtonTODimage3" by This image was altered by Thesmothete with additional graphical elements to indicate the location of transit stations and the extent of development around them. - Derivative of :Image:ArlingtonRb aerial.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ArlingtonTODimage3.jpg#/media/File:ArlingtonTODimage3.jpg

Enterprise Community Partners have posted Promoting Opportunity Through Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD): Barriers to Success and Best Practices for Implementation. It opens,

Development patterns directly relate to a community’s strength. Individual families, the local economy, municipal governments and the environment all benefit when well-located housing, jobs and other necessary resources are connected by efficient transportation and infrastructure networks. Equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) is an important approach to facilitating these connections. This paper defines eTOD as compact, often mixed-use development with multi-modal access to jobs, neighborhood-serving stores and other amenities that also serves the needs of low- and moderate-income people. The preservation and creation of dedicated affordable housing is a primary approach to eTOD, which can ensure that high-opportunity neighborhoods are open to people from all walks of life. eTOD supports the achievement of multiple cross-sector goals, including regional economic growth, enhanced mobility and access, efficient municipal and transportation network operations, improved public health, and decreased cost of living.

Yet it is sometimes difficult for planning agencies, local governments, transit agencies, housing organizations, private developers, and other institutions that influence development to act in concert to overcome barriers to eTOD. Each stakeholder has a unique mission with disparate goals and compliance burdens and must comply with complex and sometimes contradictory rules and regulations. However, improving coordination between these sectors can shift a potentially adversarial relationship into a symbiotic partnership. As the public resources that support transportation and infrastructure networks and housing affordability remain threatened, such efficient coordination is an especially important goal. (5, references omitted)

eTOD has a lot going for it: it’s environmentally responsible, it’s socially responsible, it can promote nice development. It is a shame that it is so hard to pull off. It would be great if HUD could take the lead in promoting eTOD, perhaps in tandem with its recent fair housing initiatives.

Housing Opportunity for Kids

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities issued a report, Creating Opportunity for Children: How Housing Location Can Make a Difference. There is some research on the positive effects that homeownership has on outcomes for children. But it is hard to determine whether it is homeownership per se which causes the positive effects as opposed to a stable housing situation more generally. Thus, further research on the role of stable housing options, like that found in this report, is quite welcome.  This report finds that the Housing Choice Voucher program

has performed much better than HUD’s project-based rental assistance programs in enabling more low-income families with children—and particularly more African American and Latino families—to live in lower-poverty neighborhoods. . . . Having a housing voucher also substantially reduces the likelihood of living in an extreme-poverty neighborhood, compared with similar families with children that either receive project-based rental assistance or don’t receive housing assistance at all. (6)
The report concludes that

Based on the evidence on how housing location affects low-income families, particularly children, and the performance of federal rental assistance programs on location-related measures, we recommend two closely related near-term goals for federal rental assistance policy: 1) federal rental assistance programs should provide greater opportunities for families to choose affordable housing outside of extreme-poverty neighborhoods; and 2) the programs should provide better access for families to low-poverty, safe communities with better-performing schools. (7)
The report also recommends four policy changes to achieve these goals:
  1. Create strong incentives for local and state housing agencies to achieve better location outcomes.
  2. Modify policies that discourage families from living in lower-poverty communities.
  3. Minimize jurisdictional barriers to families’ ability to choose to live in high-opportunity communities.
  4. Assist families in using vouchers to live in high-opportunity areas. (7-8)

This is a pretty hefty report and it is worth digging into more deeply.