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.


SAVE THE DATE

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.

HUD Extends AFH Submission Deadline for Small Local Governments

On October 24, HUD published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the extension of the initial Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) submission deadlines for small consolidated plan program participants that received a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) of $500,000 or less in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 or in a subsequent FY; or in the case of a HOME consortium, whose members collectively received a CDBG grant of $500,000 or less.

Previously, HUD established the first AFH due date for small consolidated plan program participants to be 270 days (approximately 9 months) before the program year for which a new 3-5 year Consolidated Plan is due, starting on or after January 1, 2018. HUD is now extending the initial due date to 270 days before the program year which a new 3-5 year Consolidated Plan is due, starting on or after January 1, 2019 – the same date that qualified public housing agencies (QPHAs – PHAs with a combined unit total of 550 or less) are required to submit their AFHs.

Learn more about HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Final Rule and subsequent AFH requirements for states, local governments, and PHAs by accessing NAHRO’s AFFH Resource Page (members only).

PHA AFH Tool updated by HUD

An updated Public Housing Authority (PHA) Analysis of Fair Housing (AFH) Tool that takes into account public comments HUD received has been posted for public inspection. HUD continues to state that they are committed to issuing an additional AFH Tool specifically for Qualified-PHAs (QPHA.) To that end, the PHA AFH Tool is intended to be used by non-QPHAs and QPHAs that are collaborating with non-QPHAs.

HUD has made a number of updates to the PHA AFH Tool. The NAHRO Policy Team will continue to review and provide additional analysis of this notice. Below is a brief list of the PHA AFH Tool updates:

  1. QPHA Insert – This insert is to be used by QPHAs that collaborate with non-QPHAs and covers the required analysis of the QPHA’s service area.
  2. Contributing Factors – HUD added and made small changes to the descriptions of contributing factors.
  3. Disparities in Access to Opportunities – The number of questions has been reduced and references to PHA waiting lists have been removed.
  4. Disability and Access – Two additional question have been added to the tool that relate to interaction of PHAs and individuals with disabilities.
  5. Instructions – Various sections of the instructions have been updated to provide clarity.
  6. Fair Housing Analysis of Rental Housing – This section only applies to PHAs that administer a Housing Choice Voucher program and not to PHAs that are Public Housing only.
  7. Enhancements for PHAs in the Data and Mapping Tool – Specific maps and date related to PHAs are planned along with enhancing the functionality of the maps.

This notice requests comment be submitted within 30 days of issuance. HUD is requesting comment on the notice generally and on 15 specific questions, listed at the end of the notice. NAHRO members should review this notice and provide their comments to HUD. NAHRO will also be providing comment on behalf of our members.

Public inspection of the updated PHA AFH Tool can be done at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-22594.pdf.

Assessment of Fair Housing Tool for Local Governments with Proposed Changes Now Available

As NAHRO previously reported, on August 23, HUD published a 30-day Notice in the Federal Register seeking additional public feedback on the proposed changes to HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Local Government Assessment Tool (Local Government Tool). The Local Government Tool is the standardized tool that communities receiving HUD Community Planning and Development (CPD) formula grant dollars must use to conduct and submit their Assessments of Fair Housing (AFH).

The 30-day Notice proposes a number of additions to the Local Government Tool that would, ideally, help simplify the AFH process for Qualified Public Housing Authorities (QPHAs), defined as PHAs not designed as “troubled” with a combined unit total of 550 or less, and for local governments receiving small CPD formula grants. The tool would include two new sections for streamlined assessments for QPHAs and small local governments, called “inserts.”  QPHAs and local governments seeking to fulfill their Fair Housing requirements through these streamlined “inserts” must be involved in a joint or regional collaboration with a local government as the lead entity.

The proposed Local Government Tool with the new “inserts” is now available for public viewing on  HUD Exchange. The deadline to respond to the 30-day Notice and comment on the Local Government Tool is September 22, 2016.

HUD Announces Changes to the AFFH Assessment Tools for Small PHAs and Local Governments

On August 23, HUD will publish a 30-day notice in the Federal Register seeking public feedback on the Local Government Assessment Tool, the instrument with which communities receiving HUD Community Planning and Development (CPD) formula grant dollars must use to conduct and submit their Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) analysis, as required by the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Final Rule.

Due to limited staff and resources, NAHRO has long-requested for HUD to streamline the AFFH assessment tools for small program participants. The 30-day Notice announces two substantial changes that would, ideally, help simplify the AFH process for Qualified Public Housing Authorities (QPHAs), defined as PHAs not designed as “troubled” with a combined unit total of 550 or less, and for local governments receiving small CPD formula grants:

  • HUD seeks to revise the existing Local Government Assessment Tool to include two new streamlined assessments for small program participants, called “inserts.” The first insert would be for use by QPHAs and the second insert would be for use by local governments that received a CBDG grant of $500,000 or less in the most recent fiscal year prior to the AFH due date. QPHAs and local governments seeking to fulfill their AFFH requirements through these streamlined inserts must be involved in a joint or regional collaboration with a local government as the lead entity.
  • HUD seeks to issue a fourth assessment tool for Qualified PHAs. Prior to this notice, HUD had committed to issuing only three AFFH assessment tools (Local Government, State and Insular Areas, and PHA-only). The new QPHA Assessment Tool would be for use by a QPHA or by multiple QPHAs jointly collaborating to submit an AFH. HUD assumes that many QPHAs will want to take advantage of this option, particularly those unable to enter into a joint or regional collaboration with another partner. HUD intends to issue a separate public notice and comment process for this new tool.

The 30-day notice also addresses the public comments received in response to the 60-day information collection notice that was published on March 23, 2016 (see NAHRO’s comments here). NAHRO’s next issue of The Monitor (members only) will have additional details about the contents of the 30-day notice.

New HUD Guidance on the Review Process for Assessments of Fair Housing

Last week, HUD published a new document that will assist program participants in understanding how the Department will conduct its review of an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) and apply the two standards established in Section 5.162 of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Final Rule. HUD will not accept an AFH if:

  1. The AFH is inconsistent with fair housing or civil rights requirements; or
  2. The AFH is substantially incomplete.

The document also describes the general principles that will guide HUD reviewers as they apply the two standards and additional information related to HUD’s review. Also included are examples of reasons that HUD will not accept an AFH, an explanation of why the AFH would be substantially incomplete or inconsistent with fair housing or civil rights requirements, and the corrective actions HUD will seek.

Visit the NAHRO Resource Center for more information on the AFFH rule and requirements.