Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)
After the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, many people hoped that segregated communities would disappear, as discriminatory real-estate practices were outlawed and all-white neighborhoods were opened up to members of other groups. Because of various historical and political developments, however, the promise of integrated neighborhoods has not been achieved.
What Is Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing?
Under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and other federal laws, state and local governments and other entities that receive federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must take positive action to expand housing opportunity for everyone no matter their race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, or family status. That legal obligation to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH) applies to both direct grant recipients, such as states, counties, and cities, as well as subrecipients, like towns and villages that receive federal aid passed down through a higher level of government.
Governments that apply for HUD money must certify that they will take action to remove barriers to fair housing, or “affirmatively further fair housing.” Grant recipients are also required to conduct an analysis of impediments to fair housing (an “AI”), a process that includes studying their population’s demographics in the context of existing residential patterns, the types of housing available, zoning restrictions, and local policies and practices that may advance or inhibit open access to housing. Governments must then take action to encourage an environment free of housing discrimination and also to provide greater opportunities for all people to be able to obtain housing in their community. Finally, they must keep records of their activities.
In effect since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the AFFH requirement is given further authority by the act’s 1988 amendments, the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, the National Affordable Housing Act of 1990, executive order 12892 issued by President Clinton in 1994, and various court decisions.
The Need for AFFH
Unfortunately, in the United States, income and wealth are related to race and national origin, with whites enjoying a great advantage in wealth accumulation compared to blacks and Hispanics. Therefore, the cost of housing and the type of housing available matter in determining where particular groups are able to live. While some individuals of protected classes may be able to obtain housing, minority groups overall will be impacted more than whites are by the sheer lack of rental apartments or other multifamily housing, such as co-ops and condominiums, in wealthier communities.
Homeownership is one major factor that has widened the wealth gap between groups. In part because of past discriminatory practices of governments and the private market, minority groups were prevented from obtaining mortgages and buying housing. That has had long-term effects, limiting individuals’ ability to accumulate wealth and pass it down to their children. As a 2013 Brandeis University study remarks, “Residential segregation places an artificial ceiling on home equity in non-white neighborhoods.” Such conditions hold true in the areas served by Westchester Residential Opportunities.
Segregated Residential Patterns
The New York metro area also has some of the nation’s oldest suburbs. As suburbs appeared and grew from the second half of the 19th century into the 20th, developers and private homeowners’ associations wrote into property deeds what are known as “restrictive covenants,” or “racially restrictive covenants.” These barred homeowners from selling their property to anyone but other whites, usually Christians. Many new towns and villages prohibited the development of apartment buildings to supposedly protect the exclusiveness of their neighborhoods. As occurred elsewhere in the United States, realtors steered particular types of people to certain neighborhoods and not others.
The federal government was also active in limiting housing opportunities for anyone but white families beginning in the late 1930s. Federal agencies set the standard for the private market by insuring mortgages only in white neighborhoods. Properties in area with blacks became virtually ineligible for mortgages because the federal agencies would not insure mortgages in these “redlined” areas.
The New York City metropolitan region in both 2000 and 2010 ranked among the top three most-segregated large metro areas in the United States for segregation between whites and, respectively, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Although the population is diverse across the entire region, members of minority groups are concentrated in a relatively small number of places and are largely absent from others.
Today, metropolitan New York and the northern suburbs continue to be marked by the legacy of such practices as outright discrimination, steering, and redlining, as well as by policies that have limited multifamily housing in some communities while concentrating subsidized housing in others. Housing discrimination continues, even if in different forms than were prevalent in earlier decades. That governments must take action to advance fair housing remains a legal obligation. In addition, the federal government is now taking a more active role than it had previously to ensure that HUD grant recipients will affirmatively further fair housing.
For a toolkit on affirmatively furthering fair housing, click here.