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Former HUD Official Hopes Fair Housing Rule Sparks More Community Investment

Raphael Bostic

Raphael Bostic

Raphael Bostic is the director of the University of Southern California Bedrosian Center on Governance and the interim director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate and former assistant secretary of HUD under President Obama. During Bostic's three-year tenure at HUD, he oversaw much of the study and analysis that formed the basis of the Department's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule which was announced in early July. Bostic recently spoke with DS News about the AFFH Rule and what he hopes it will achieve.

Why is there a need for this rule at this time?

The mandate for the rule existed in the original Fair Housing Act (1968). If you look at the language, HUD was charged with stamping out any illegal discrimination that it saw, and also with affirmatively taking steps to promote integration and access to opportunity. That's in the law that was written in the '60s, so the mandate is not new and the charge isn't new.

What IS new is that the existing regulations that were done many, many years ago weren't actually accomplishing the things we hoped they would. It wasn't getting communities to be reflective about how they were investing in their communities to make sure people were moving forward, it wasn't sparking the types of discussions and conversations that would get a deeper awareness of the challenges that still exist in communities, and it wasn't leading to creativity in finding solutions so that segments of the population weren't being left behind. Those were the things that really drove us to move forward.

It wasn't easy. This was a process and it's a regulation that cuts across a lot of different areas and philosophies, and trying to find articulation that makes sense to everyone and that's doable took a lot of effort.

Why do you think there is controversy or misinformation around this rule?

I think the controversy arises for a couple of reasons. One is purely political. The idea is that if you scare people to make the other side look like they're doing something reckless or dangerous, you gain political points. Much of the alarmist rhetoric has been really trying to scare people to suggest that the Obama Administration is trying to determine who your neighbors are going to be. The administration is not trying to do that. Those things, like this notion of social engineering you hear people talk about, are total mischaracterizations. It's going way beyond what is intended by this and what's likely to happen.

The second thing, and I understand the concern, is that this is some new mandate or new imposition of a federal priority on a local community. There's been a longstanding tension between local controllers and federal controllers. The relationship between those levels of government is something that we are continually navigating and that is evolving. This definitely falls into that space, because it's a federal regulation. It looks like it's new, because it's a federal regulation that hasn't worked very well, I understand that. When you look at how this is going to be implemented, what

What communities were doing in fulfilling the former regulation was spending tens of thousands of dollars hiring consultants to do all this stuff and have these meetings. It was something that was relatively expensive and not really helpful in any way. What this new regulation does is streamline the process. The government provides the data that is most important in the analysis and the government provides some technical assistance that is available to help communities work through these things. HUD is going to be an ongoing partner through the entire process to try to facilitate engagement.

Because all the information is going to be made available, it will allow for a different sort of conversation, because people who may not have been aware of the previous process or may not have had access or training to do analysis using census data, they're going to have an online tool that allows them to see where are the transportation assets in a community, to see are there neighborhoods that seem to be isolated in terms of a race or income level. Once that is clear, it's my view that communities will not be able to just ignore it, but rather start to think about what does this mean for our community and what are the opportunities that we have to be more inclusive and get everyone to be a real contributor?

What affect do you hope this rule will have on housing?

My hope is that the rule actually results in different patterns of community investment such that everyone has access to real opportunity. What we know now is that there are a number of neighborhoods and communities across the country that are isolated. They don't have the good schools, they don't have real access to jobs. They don't have parks and other things which have been shown to really improve people's quality of life and help them to be productive contributors to society. What I hope the rule does is lead us all to think about "How can we invest in ways that change that reality for those isolated places?" In some cases, that's going to mean trying to build housing in some neighborhoods that have them, so we may start to see some more integrated patterns. In many other cases, it's going to involve saying, "Let's use our HUD dollars to improve linkages between jobs and housing. Let's use our HUD money to help support training programs that can better position our residents to be competitive when they're looking for work. Let's use our community resources to help make the streets safer so that our kids can play, or let's build a park or community center so that we can improve our network."

You'll hear some people say the rule forces this or it forces that. To me, it's really forcing a conversation and then having the community together think about what's the best course of action to give everyone the true access to the American dream.

So this rule goes far beyond housing.

Technically, the rule doesn't. This is a HUD regulation and HUD has clear jurisdiction. But one of the things I think the Obama Administration has been pretty novel about is making the case, and I think it's the right case, that housing by itself is not very useful. Housing comes with a geography, and that geography comes with a whole list of other things. When you live in a place, that determines what school you go to. That determines what jobs are going to be easily accessible. That determines what parks you're going to play in. In LA, there are a lot of hospitals that have closed their emergency rooms, so where you live determines your access to emergency health services. When we think about housing investments and making them effective, we are really thinking about how does housing contribute to the entire range of the quality of life?

We want the communities to think about all these things. When you look at the tool, you will see that we try to identify neighborhoods that we call "opportunity rich" that have access to jobs and high-performing schools and all those things. We want to try to get communities to think about, "What do we need to do to make the housing wherever it is a vehicle for people to get access to opportunity rich places?"

It is about housing, but HUD is the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A lot of times, people forget the "UD" part. But this is really about housing and our broader investment to how we think about urban development and redevelopment.

About Author: Brian Honea

Brian Honea's writing and editing career spans nearly two decades across many forms of media. He served as sports editor for two suburban newspaper chains in the DFW area and has freelanced for such publications as the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Dallas Home Improvement magazine, and the Dallas Morning News. He has written four non-fiction sports books, the latest of which, The Life of Coach Chuck Curtis, was published by the TCU Press in December 2014. A lifelong Texan, Brian received his master's degree from Amberton University in Garland.

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