News & Events

E4A Comments on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

March 17, 2020

On January 14th, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule, FR-6123-P-02, that changes the defintion of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. The proposed changes, if implemented, will undermine progress made towards building neighborhoods that foster inclusivity and shape health and well-being and will compromise health equity and adversely impact the health of communities throughout the United States. 

E4A submitted the following letter expressing our concern about this proposed rule.

Office of the General Counsel Regulations Division
Department of Housing and Urban Development 451 7th Street SW, Room 10276
Washington, DC 20410-0001

March 13, 2020

Ref: Docket ID: HUD-2020-0011

As Director and Deputy Director of the Evidence for Action Program we are writing to express our concerns about proposed changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Evidence for Action (E4A) – a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation located at the University of California, San Francisco – aims to provide policy-makers with unbiased, rigorous research that enables evidence-based policy-making; with the goal of improving population health and increasing health equity. Below we discuss why we believe that the proposed changes, if implemented, will undermine progress made towards building neighborhoods that foster inclusivity and shape health and well-being and will compromise health equity and adversely impact the health of communities throughout the United States.

E4A has supported several studies that provide strong evidence of the link between housing and health. One recently-funded study has found that housing assistance – especially housing assistance that improves neighborhood conditions – can promote physical and mental health of both adults and children, and additionally decrease homelessness. The results show how federal housing assistance can positively influence health of vulnerable populations and play a key role in creating stable housing located in safe neighborhoods.

The proposed rule change is problematic for several reasons. First, the proposed rule disregards historic patterns of segregation and discrimination in the housing market. The change would set back efforts to address segregation in housing practices and risks perpetuating discriminatory policies, which disproportionately harm low income people and communities of color.

Segregation is a major contributing cause of health disparities between white and non-white communities. Findings from the City Health Dashboard shows that throughout the U.S., cities with greater racial residential segregation scores – measured by clusters of different racial/ethnic groups – have larger gaps in life expectancy. Further, by removing any reference to desegregation from the AFFH, HUD would be increasing the likelihood that these disparities remain. It’s critical that we continue to work toward inclusive, racially diverse communities, with equal access to green space, quality schools, and healthy food.

Second, the proposed rule’s sole focus on affordability limits opportunities to foster inclusive upwardly mobile communities. Foundational work by Raj Chetty and colleagues demonstrated that lower levels of residential segregation, less income inequality, better primary schools, greater social capital and greater family stability are characteristics associated with areas of high mobility. While a sufficient supply of affordable housing is a step in the right direction for broad- based public health, it ignores unequal access to positive drivers of health across communities of varying racial and ethnic composition, such as access to safe parks and trails (greenness), health care, credible banking institutions, high-quality schools and day cares, and fair-paying jobs. Retaining language explicitly aimed at desegregation and the creation of inclusive communities will increase the chances that policies aimed at generating affordable housing will benefit minority populations.

Under the proposed rule change, requirements aimed at building inclusive neighborhoods will be replaced with a requirement to identify three target obstacles that the community will seek to reduce. The “obstacles” are to be selected from a larger list of 16. While many of the items listed are reasonable, some would roll back protections that exist to protect health and wellbeing, such as environmental health regulations, housing affordability policies, and labor protections. This change is unnecessary and, in some cases, could be harmful.

Changes to the proposed rule eliminate a mandate to create meaningful opportunities for community participation and civic engagement. This proposed change to AFFH effectively eliminates voices of community members directly affected by the policies by rescinding requirements for public hearings and a comment period. Both of these elements are crucial opportunities for people who are directly impacted to raise their concerns and offer unique perspectives, which can help guard against unintended consequences.

Finally, the elimination of compulsory submission of Public Housing Agency-defined goals and strategies is problematic. Segregation of communities across economic and racial lines is common in places where Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) operate, and thus these agencies are in a position – and have the tools – to understand and address the unique challenges faced by their tenants. By dropping the requirement for PHAs to submit their own fair housing plans, communities and the PHAs themselves are likely to lose a valuable input in their fair housing policymaking process.

In sum, given that the proposed rule change may damage population health and create greater health inequities by contributing to residential segregation, limiting meaningful opportunities to build community power, and perpetuating racial and social inequities in our communities, we strongly oppose the proposed rule change and urge HUD to preserve the existing AFFH rule.

Nancy Adler, PhD
Director, Evidence for Action
A National Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the University of California, San Francisco

Erin Hagan, PhD, MBA
Deputy Director, Evidence for Action
A National Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the University of California, San Francisco