Habitat for Humanity opposes decision to roll back U.S. fair housing initiative

ATLANTA (July 31, 2020) — Habitat for Humanity has strongly opposed the rescission of the 2015 Affirmatively Further Fair Housing rule by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Habitat filed an official comment letter on the issue in March, and issued the statement below following the official elimination of the regulation this month.

Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford commented:

“At Habitat for Humanity, our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. We know that home is more than just a house and believe that everyone should have access to the assets and opportunities they need to thrive. The United States faces crisis-level deficits in safe, decent and affordable housing that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our leaders need to be focused on building more homes for families across the country, and creating inclusive, thriving communities of opportunity.

“The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which Habitat for Humanity supports, would have begun to follow through on a half-century-old promise made by our government to cut down barriers to equal housing opportunities. The decision to eliminate the rule is a step in the wrong direction.

“Additionally, we are also disturbed and offended by the arguments used by some opponents of the fair housing rule, which appear to be a scare tactic designed to divide the country. Let’s be clear: Building new, safe, decent and affordable homes does not threaten anyone’s way of life. In fact, the evidence shows that mixed-income communities benefit all who live in them.

“Decades of data show that the best thing we can do to help close the achievement gap for kids is for them to be able to grow up in mixed-income communities. No zip code should be reserved for the rich, and no school should be walled off to the poor.

“Habitat for Humanity will not bend in our mission to build affordable homes in communities across this country — in cities, suburbs and rural areas. And we will advocate in Washington and in state houses and city halls across the country for policies that advance communities of opportunity for all.”

The repeal of the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule

On July 23, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development terminated the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. Unfortunately, the Administration’s replacement rule eliminates the requirement for communities to consider the spatial distribution of affordable homes or community assets when spending HUD dollars. In the rule’s absence, there remains an urgent need for proactive efforts to address segregation and advocate to eliminate barriers to communities of opportunity for Black families and other communities historically subject to housing discrimination. 

Last year, Habitat for Humanity launched Cost of Home, the organization’s first U.S. national advocacy campaign. As a core tenet of the campaign, we state that “Advocates and policymakers must acknowledge and address the well-documented historic patterns of racial discrimination in housing and land use policies — at all levels of government — that still impact the makeup and opportunities of our communities.”

More than a century of housing and land use policies enacted by local, state and federal government denied households of color equal access to homeownership, credit, strong schools, neighborhood investment and many other opportunities offered to white households. The consequences of these decisions are vividly reflected in today’s disparities in housing security, education, workforce opportunities, health, income and wealth. These disparities cannot be addressed without reducing segregation, developing more inclusive communities, and transforming concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity so that all residents of the community can benefit.

In Habitat’s comment letter on proposed changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule submitted in March 2020, we asserted that any meaningful regulatory efforts by HUD to further fair housing must require localities to:

  1. Document existing patterns of segregation and access to community assets and job opportunities in their communities;  
  2. Analyze barriers to fair housing choice—including historical and current policies that led to or perpetuate housing segregation and spatially constrained housing opportunities based on race and other protected classes under the Fair Housing Act; and
  3. Identify policy and programmatic steps for overcoming these barriers and improving location choices for homebuyers and renters that experience disproportionate barriers to fair housing choice.

We stand by these three principles and, even without the formality of HUD’s 2015 AFFH rule, encourage local and state governments to embrace these principles as they work to improve access to affordable housing and communities of opportunity. Moreover, Habitat for Humanity urges the Administration and Congress to enact meaningful policies and regulations that create investments in distressed, racially segregated communities to promote inclusive recovery, increase opportunities for households of color to access homeownership, and increase opportunities to live in and buy homes in newly transformed communities of opportunity. Only then will the promise of the 1968 Fair Housing Act truly be recognized.

About Habitat for Humanity

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort on a community farm in southern Georgia. The Christian housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in local communities across all 50 states in the U.S. and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up partner with Habitat for Humanity to build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Through financial support, volunteering or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves. Through shelter, we empower. To learn more, visit habitat.org.