Early Lessons Learned in Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

This is a guest blog by Mark Shelburne, Novogradac & Company LLP.

As most readers are aware, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) substantially revised its approach to affirmatively furthering fair housing (AFFH). One of the key aspects is submitting an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH), using a “Tool” document as a template.

The first group of 22 cities and counties sent their AFHs to HUD for review October. Under the 2015 rule, thousands of other local governments, states, and housing authorities will do the same over the next several years.

Novogradac & Company LLP partnered with Civitas, LLC to help the city of Wilmington, N.C., and Wilmington Housing Authority on their AFH submission. Late in November, HUD staff reached out regarding a few additions and clarifications, which Novogradac, Civitas, and local officials were able to complete in the two days before Thanksgiving. The notice of acceptance came Dec. 2, making Wilmington’s plan one of the first to be completed in the nation. (Reports suggest HUD did not accept all of the AFHs submitted in the initial round.)

The best news for jurisdictions with upcoming AFFH deadlines is you are not going first. There is an opportunity to learn from those who’ve begun the process. The following is a summary list of the most important lessons learned from Novogradac’s experience in Wilmington.

  1. Collaborate with other local HUD funding recipients. This item is first both because of being an early decision and one of the most important. There is no reason to go it alone–partnering may result in some challenges, but the net is a benefit for all involved.
  1. Have widespread, diverse opportunities for public input. Try to include any fair housing organizations operating within your area. Also be aware of limited English proficiency and disability-access considerations.
  1. Start early and speak often. Applying the prior two lessons will take time, as does drafting the text. In fact, the best time to get started is as soon as you’re finished reading this post. Frequent communication (not just meetings but emails and calls), particularly around goals, is essential.
  1. Consider a consultant, but be realistic. Contracting for assistance can be particularly helpful for data analysis and providing a more objective view, but local staff will do a lot of work regardless.
  1. You know at least some of the concerns. In many cases what should happen in the community is not a mystery. You do not need to rigidly follow the steps in the Tool, it is okay to think of some goals first.
  1. Read accepted AFHs. Wilmington’s and New Orleans’ are good places to start.
  1. Be careful about dot density. Try different settings in the HUD-provided maps. For example, using the 75-per-person setting does not always show patterns of segregation.
  1. Address all protected classes. Usually the focus is on race, but all seven classes are covered. Most will vary even within a state, with disability as the most uniform. Be aware of possible implications of an ADA/Olmstead settlement underway.
  1. Don’t assume the reader knows your community. The review might not be limited to your local or state HUD office. For example, staff from across the HUD Region (Columbia, Greensboro, Jacksonville, and Nashville) were involved in Wilmington’s submission.
  1. Have specific, actionable goals. The next steps should strike a balance between making real progress and being actually achievable. You will need to have a goal for any issue either identified or apparent to the HUD reviewer.
  1. Address all issues identified. Some of the assessed factors may appear to be beyond the jurisdiction’s control. For example, many school districts are distinct governing entities from HUD funding recipients. Yet even in this instance, the goal could be to build new affordable rental properties in areas with high-performing schools.
  1. Change your mindset. True AFFH compliance is less about completing the Tool (although doing so is necessary) and more about a change of thinking. For too long, our nation has seen federal housing programs as being meant only for construction and rehabilitation; reducing segregation and expanding opportunities are equally important. This purpose should be part of program administrators’ every decision.

Final Thoughts

There is certainly a possibility the process may be different under Secretary Carson, who has expressed concerns about certain aspects of fair housing. However nothing has been announced, nor is likely to change early in the next Administration, so for now HUD recipients should continue with current approach.

Please feel free to reach out with any comments or questions.


Housing Rules Series! Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing: How did we get here?

January 10, 2017 from 1:30 PM – 3:00 PM ET

If feels like there is a notice on affirmatively furthering fair housing every few days. In this rapidly changing environment, NAHRO staff will look back at the AFFH rule. Then an overview of the current notices and guidance specifically focusing on the Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) tools will be discussed. This e-briefing will provide a regulatory context for a constructive and informed discussion on AFFH moving forward. Guest speaker, Mark Shelburne, Senior Manager at Novogradac & Company LLP, will share the important lessons learned from Novogradac’s experience in Wilmington, N.C.

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