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PRRAC Report Grades HUD On First-Term Fair Housing Progress

Says Steps Were Begun Towards More Inclusive Communities, But Much Work Remains Hopeful that Positive Start Will Continue in Obama's Second Term

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new report by the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) credits the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for "reaffirming a broad commitment to fair housing," but notes that the task of reforming HUD's own programs has been "painstakingly slow"  during President Obama's first term.

The comprehensive review focuses on key HUD programs and the agency's mandate to promote racial integration in its own housing programs. The report also examines fair housing progress in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, where HUD shares regulatory authority with the Treasury Department.

"A flurry of positive activity inside the agency during the first term has not yet been reflected in final program regulations or guidance, even though some of this work has been underway for years," the report states.  "For this reason, our assessment of HUD's progress is mixed – but we are still hopeful that the agency's leadership will be able to expedite the completion of these needed reforms early in the second term." 

Philip Tegeler, PRRAC executive director, noted that there have been some significant policy implementations. "We know the leadership at HUD is committed to fair housing, which is why we are so frustrated by the slow pace of reform," said Mr. Tegeler, whose organization is a strong advocate for enforcing fair housing laws and ending residential segregation.  

Betsy Julian, a former HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing in the Clinton Administration and a current member of PRRAC's Board, said, "We have been very pleased with the Administration's stated support for fair housing goals, but ultimately, the results are what matter, and the jury is still out.  It is very important that someone is keeping track of what is happening behind closed doors at HUD."

Furthermore, Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU's Racial Justice Program and also a PRRAC Board member, said, "This report provides a blue print for the federal government in playing the vital role that it uniquely can play. Fair housing is the gateway to equal opportunity in many areas but is particularly important in relation to education. Segregated housing patterns too often relegate students of color to under-resourced schools which are segregated racially, ethnically and economically."

Specifically, the report reviews HUD's efforts to promote racial integration as part of the AFFH mandate across nine categories : 1) HUD's strategic plan, 2) new focus on fair housing in HUD competitive grants, 3) the "affirmatively furthering fair housing" regulation, 4) the "Sustainable Communities Initiative" (SCI), 5) Section 8 voucher reform—including small area FMRs and portability, 6) housing mobility programs, 7) the new Rental Assistance Demonstration, 8) the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, and 9) the Moving to Work (MTW) program.

The study's findings include that:
  • The HUD strategic plan's emphasis on "inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination" and the explicit emphasis on "decreasing the concentration of poverty and racial segregation" have helped to move reform efforts forward inside the agency.  But the treatment of fair housing as a coequal agency policy goal in the plan, rather than an overarching legal obligation, may perpetuate historical policy gridlock in the agency.
  • The proposed AFFH rule has received more extensive public input and engagement than any HUD regulation since the agency was founded.  Although the public engagement process with multiple stakeholders has been positive and constructive, HUD has delayed the release for too long – it is important to release and finalize the rule so that it can start being applied during the current administration's tenure.
  • A HUD regional planning program with a strong AFFH component has great potential to begin to undo patterns of segregation.  The Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) is probably the most innovative initiative of the agency's first term.  Yet, the planning framework for the SCI is thin on implementation, and it is unclear what kind of follow-through will be required in the regional plans.  The program has also been hampered by a lack of full support from Congress.
  • HUD is finally looking at the structural impediments to fair housing choice that are built into Section 8 voucher program design.  But so far, only one relevant proposed regulation has been released, and other action has been delayed. 

"Reforming HUD's programs is admittedly a challenge, and it has and will be a slow process," Mr. Tegeler said. "However, there was a lot of positive activity during the first term, and we are very hopeful that the agency's leadership will be in a position to expedite the completion of necessary reform early in the second term."

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