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Partners for Rural Transformation Submits Comments to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Proposed Rule

April 28th, 2023

By Kiyadh Burt, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy and Interim Director

Earlier this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a new proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule for comment. The proposed rule intends to strengthen fair housing efforts by requiring grantees like states and local governments to set goals for furthering fair housing in partnership with the communities they serve.  The AFFH requirement of the Fair Housing Act not only prohibits HUD and its associated programs from discriminating on the basis of things like race and gender but also requires housing programs to address housing disparities caused by residential segregation.

Partners for Rural Transformation (PRT), in collaboration with HOPE, submitted a public comment earlier this week in support of the proposed rule. PRT is made up of six regional Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) located in and serving regions with a high prevalence of rural persistent poverty. CDFI members include Come Dream | Come Build (CDCB) of Brownsville, Communities Unlimited, Fahe, First Nations Oweesta Corporation, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, and HOPE.

HOPE, as a Black and women-owned financial institution and policy center that works in historically underserved communities across the Deep South, recognizes the critical importance of AFFH. The wide racial disparities in homeownership, loan denials, and predatory lending serve as critical reminders for the need for robust, fair housing enforcement in the Deep South.

The joint comment includes recommendations on three elements of the proposed rule: proactive goals, requirements for community engagement, and the annual review and compliance process.

Goal Setting

PRT supports shifting the emphasis of AFFH data analysis from identifying and prioritizing the factors that inhibit fair housing to a focus on proactive, explicit goal setting. HUD should provide program participants with a broad list of specific examples of proactive, meaningful goals that could affirmatively further fair housing. For example, providing down payment assistance to first-time homeowners to address disparities in homeownership.

PRT also supports the emphasis in the rule on a “balanced approach,” which should include both place-based and mobility-based fair housing solutions (question 12). Program participants should set goals that maintain or improve affordable housing and community assets in areas of concentrated poverty as well as removing obstacles to mobility like affordable housing zoning as applicable.

Data Analysis

HUD should ensure that a baseline of key fair housing data is considered in identifying goals. To do this, HUD should identify the data that program participants will need to provide, particularly data at the local level e.g. census tract. HUD can create a baseline level of quality in data collected and comparisons of impact across geographies. HUD should include data that illustrate interactions between race, gender, family type, and income. Intersectional and disaggregated data can demonstrate insights for communities that historically have been locked out of homeownership and housing programs.  Additionally, HUD should include data that illustrate challenges to access to credit, such as mortgage loan denials by race and income, and where possible, the cost of credit i.e., interest rates. The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act contains much of this data.

Community Engagement

PRT strongly supports the requirement for community engagement in the data analysis, goal setting, planning, and enforcement aspects of the proposed rule. Without explicit and detailed guidance around these requirements, the commitment to community engagement will vary across different states and local jurisdictions. Community engagement in the goal-setting process should be meaningful and should be required to include residents that receive assistance from HUD funds as well as underserved groups in each region.

Community engagement should be proactive, including culturally-competent outreach to community stakeholders for participation. Technical assistance should be provided for program participants to do so. This outreach should be required to go well beyond posting public meeting notices. Meetings should be set at times and places to enable the participation of underserved groups. Finally, when possible, community stakeholders engaged via outreach should be compensated for their time and expertise as consultants to the process.

Enforcement and Accountability

PRT strongly supports the annual progress evaluations of the goals set through the AFFH Equity Plan process and reasonable adjustments made to those goals due to documented contingencies and extenuating circumstances. Progress evaluations should be published for public review.

PRT also supports the creation of a complaints process that will allow HUD to open compliance reviews and allow members of the public to file complaints directly with HUD regarding a program participant’s AFFH-related activities. The complaint and compliance review process should be easy to access and transparent.

PRT’s full comment is available here.

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