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Video: Housing Equity

A conversation from the 2022 AARP Livable Communities Housing Workshop

A discussion about ensuring fair and equitable access to housing — and addressing the impact of past discriminatory housing practices.

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The presentation transcript was created by an automated transcription tool. Anyone looking to quote or use information from the event is advised to compare the text to the video recording. 

Rodney Harrell, AARP: That was a wonderful way to wrap up those innovation showcases from today and yesterday. You know, I'm incredibly thankful for all the people, all 10 folks who took the time to share their work and their solutions with us from across the country.

And now we're about to start another discussion on a very important theme, our fourth theme — Housing Equity. Now these panelists will highlight efforts to ensure that there is fair and equitable access to housing, and that we're working to address the impact of past discriminatory housing practices on people today. So to help us with that, I'd like to welcome our next moderate, Samar Jha, a Director with AARP Government Affairs. He specializes in state and local housing policy and advocacy. So welcome, Samar and over to you.

Samar Jha: Thank you so much, Rodney, for the kind introduction. To start off, I have the privilege to introduce two great panelists for this session.

First up is Nikitra Bailey, who is an Executive Vice President of the National Fair Housing Alliance. She develops and spearheads and regional policy strategy to advance housing justice and creative equity law opportunities for everyone.

Next up is Bryan Greene, who is the Vice President of Policy Advocacy at National Association of Realtors. He has raised the association's profile nationwide on all fair housing related policy matters. Thank you so much for joining us today.

In today's panel, we're going to talk about how affordable, accessible, high quality housing should be available to people of all incomes and backgrounds. And policies to alleviate the impact of past housing destination practices. Before we start the discussion, we will have a Slido question. So in one or two words please describe what are the most significant barriers to housing equity in your community?

We will wait for the responses to come in. Well unfortunately, certain things are not surprising. We're seeing NIMBY is in the forefront. We'll wait for another five seconds before... So Bryan and Nikitra, briefly in like a minute, do you have any thoughts to the responses that are coming in? We can start with Nikitra if you want.

Nikitra Bailey: Thank you, Samar, it's a pleasure to be here. These responses are not at all shocking. Fair housing continues to be an issue in our country as we're dealing with this housing crisis, so it's wonderful to see that members of communities across the country are really concerned about things like exclusionary zoning in their neighborhoods and communities, and the need to make sure we center fair housing and solutions going forward.

Samar Jha: Thank you so much. And the responses are still coming in. And it seems as we can see, it's unfortunate that NIMBY's still the top response here with income, racism, cost, affordability. We also saw zoning come in-between, I'm pretty sure it's somewhere in the responses.

All right, let's get on with the questions, I think. Let's start with the questions. So Nikitra, you are first up. The National Fair Housing Alliance is the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing. More than 4 million instances of housing discrimination are each and every year, and the majority of them are under reported. This fuels poverty, housing instability, and inequitable living standards. Can you describe your efforts to eliminate housing discrimination and ensure equitable housing opportunities for all people in our communities, and what's one thing you risk local leaders and advocates knew in order to help advance this important work?

Nikitra Bailey: Great, thank you so much for that wonderful question. So my organization, the National Fair Housing Alliance leads the fair housing movement and works to eliminate housing discrimination and ensure equitable housing opportunities for all people and communities through our education, outreach, members services, public policy advocacy, housing and community development, tech equity enforcement and consulting and compliance programs. The one thing that I want people to take away from this discussion at the outset, is that affordable housing is not analogous to fair housing. For much of our country's history, we have tried to address housing discrimination by focusing solely on affordability issues. We created many thousands of affordable housing laws and programs, but we've not rooted out discrimination in housing, which has actually been illegal in this country since the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 102 years prior to the passage of the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Focusing on affordable housing solutions solely has really exacerbated existing inequality and entrenched racial wealth and homeownership disparities. Today's 30 percentage point difference in the black/white homeownership rate is as wide as it was since discrimination was legal even 1890. So much sacrifice was offered in the creation of open housing policies. The Federal Fair Housing Act was passed just 11 days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spent much of his life advocating for fair housing policies. Our nation has a robust fair housing infrastructure. These laws must be fully enforced to help root out inequalities and create equitable opportunities for everyone.

Fair housing principles should be embedded in all plans to address the current housing crisis. A whole of government approach is needed to lessen the impact of inflation on families and to drive inclusive economic growth. Rise in housing costs continue to be a core driver of inflation accounting for more than 40 percent of increase in the inflation rate. So we know that at the federal level, the Administration and Congress have the tools that can provide relief for struggling families while helping to, at the same time, help the economy grow.

So now is the opportunity to advance strategic measures to address inflation and expand housing opportunities for those who need them most. We also need brave leadership within states and localities, exclusionary zoning laws as the poll just showed must be addressed and eliminated. They are hampering economic growth and increasingly, there is growing bipartisan support among industry groups, including homebuilders, who want to see a cease to these harmful provisions. They actually stop opportunity and stop every community from being a place of opportunity. So it's time that we attack them.

We also know that housing accounts for nearly 20 percent of our nation's GDP. Equitable housing policies can help all families have a seat at the table, lessen negative climate impacts, and provide the economic engine to grow the economy for everyone.

Samar Jha: Thank you for the great response, and you know it's funny when people talk about affordable housing and we are discussing affordable housing, there's no magic bullet, there's no silver bullet to have one legislation that solves affordable housing. Different parts of affordable housing need to be looked into. So Bryan, you are back in, and I don't know whether you saw the Slido responses.

Bryan Greene: I did. That's the last thing I saw.

Samar Jha: So perfect, before I ask you the next question, do you have a response to that?

Bryan Greene: Yeah, the words don't surprise me, and you know I saw zoning, NIMBY, and income as the top issues, and they're interrelated terms. So I would be happy to talk about that or answer other questions.

Samar Jha: I think next question I'm going to ask you is sort of related to that, so the National Association of Renters have been outspoken in efforts to ensure fair housing for all. Since the Great Recession, the gap between black and white homeownership rates have grown wider than it's ever been in 50 years. How are realtors working to expand homeownership for more people, especially groups that have been historically excluded, and as a country, the affordable housing crisis intensifies also with increased racial wealth gaps. Is there a solution for it or again, I'm not asking for a silver bullet or a magic bullet, but how do we even address part of it if we can.

Bryan Greene: Yeah, so you mentioned the affordable housing crisis. In many respects that stems from a housing supply crisis right now, and the scarcity of housing is driving up the cost and we, at NAR, put out a report called Double Trouble that speaks to this. And one of the reasons why we don't have adequate housing supply is one of the reasons that was cited in that poll, which is zoning and NIMBYism. And also income people in many communities simply don't have the income even where there is sufficient housing. But zoning and NIMBYism prevents the siting of more housing and having more housing would make it more affordable.

So we've been calling attention to this, to the housing supply challenge, and we've called on the federal government to do more to incentivize changes in zoning at the local level, things that they can do at the federal level to incentivize that. But also, beyond that, just really to call attention to the need for all hands on deck to increase the housing supply. We have to do all of the other things. We have to make sure the discrimination doesn't occur, but even if we do that, the housing supply issue is exacerbating so many things.

The final point I'll see for right now is that the legacy of housing discrimination also means that even if we hold all other things constant, many people have less living communities where they have less equity in their homes, or more credit challenged because of income limitations, and we have to recognize that, that the legacy threatens to perpetuate these disparities. So we have to take come active steps to deal with legacies we really haven't addressed in this country.

Samar Jha: Thank you so much for the response, Bryan, and I can see the common theme was zoning, and restrictive zoning has always been one of these [inaudible] to equitable housing and fair housing. So thank you so much for these two questions that I had asked. I think there's, the last thing I want to do is pass on the mic to the emcee to go for the live Q&A.

Mike Watson: Fantastic. And now it's your chance to ask your questions to our panelists, Nikitra, Bryan, and Samar just had a fantastic conversation around the important topic of housing equity. So just to remember, if you'd like to ask a question, please use the Slido Q&A function. You can join in Slido now by either logging into your browser and typing and enter the event code, "Livable Housing" or scan the QR code on your screen. We have a few great questions already pilling up, and some really thoughtful responses I'm sure ready for our panelists, so let's go ahead and dive right in.

So Nikitra and Bryan, this first question is kind of a broad question around affordable housing. Can you answer, how do we counter the idea that affordable housing can bring crime or other arguments that we hear from NIMBY so often? What are kind of some of the kind of , one, substantive policy responses to that, and also, what are some of the ways that communities who are really addressing affordable housing and bringing it to their community are successfully combating those arguments? Nikitra, let's start with you, and then go to you, Bryan.

Nikitra Bailey: Sure. Thank you so much. So from the outset we have to be honest that thousands of laws in our country's history have falsely equated this idea of race and risk. Those accusations are grounded in false belief. There is no connection with those realities. So our nation's public policies for thousands of years actually have helped to reinforce this idea that people of color might be more risky and that the communities that people of color operate in and occupy might be more risky. And it's an unfounded risk that's not rooted in any science or real fact.

So the reality is though is that because we continued to allow for these exclusionary zoning practices to continue, we're actually seeing underperformance in our economy, we're holding back economic growth for everyone. And until we address those challenges, we're not going to see a healthy economy. Right now, we know that our economy is facing a major impact of inflation. Inflation in housing is one of the core drivers of our overall inflationary measures in this country right now. We know that housing inflation is accounting for about a 40 percent increase in inflation overall. So if we're going to tackle these challenges around inflation and its impact on the economy, we have to focus in on making sure we are addressing things like exclusionary zoning restrictions that really hamper overall economic growth. We have to remove these barriers and provide fair access and opportunity for all communities and all peoples' lives.

Mike Watson: Thank you so much, Nikitra. I think that point around inflation is really important. I think you said 40 percent of the inflation that we're seeing is through housing price increases, and it sounds like tackling that is a great way to tackle this challenge of inflation we're seeing across the country. Bryan, is there anything you'd like to add to that fantastic response from Nikitra?

Bryan Greene: Well, just to underscore what she said in terms of we actually hold ourselves back by not addressing the potential for the economy that more integrated housing opportunity could bring. We don't really have truly racially integrated or economically integrated communities. So people don't have really a whole lot of data to make those claims. In fact, I think if we truly did create integrated and economically diversified communities, you would see lots of growth in many communities. And a lot of the things that people fear actually would be addressed because you don't have segregation poverty, you don't have racial segregation and disinvestment in communities if people are actually living together. So those are the things that we actually have to step out and do in order to see the progress we can make.

Mike Watson: Really good answer, and Bryan, I think you kind of led us into what our next question is, which is kind of a follow-up on that. So I'm going to start with you on this, and it's a question around income in diversity, and how do we, as there's hundreds of housing advocates tuning in, and thousands that will be watching later, how do us, as housing advocates, communicate the benefits of diverse communities, income diversity, racial diversity, to folks who are trying to kind of bring about this affordable housing change to community. So Bryan, since that was kind of a lead off on your last response, let's start with you and then go back to Nikitra to add onto it.

Bryan Greene: Yeah, you know, and again, I think Nikitra pointed to this, there are research studies talking about the increase in Gross Domestic Product for metropolitan areas, for the nation as a whole, if we create more diversified racially integrated communities. And I think many communities are also beginning to recognize how the entire community suffers when you don't have a variety of housing types. People recognize that different jobs, different needs that families have, aren't being met because the people who would provide those services can't live in the community. So you know, it's an ecosystem, and people can't really run and hide from these challenges, and I think the converse will be true, that if we take the steps to create zoning and opportunity that would diversify communities racially and economically, we'll begin to see those communities prosper.

Mike Watson: Thank you, Bryan. Nikitra, is there anything you'd like to add to that?

Nikitra Bailey: Yeah, just more figured, like we're leaving money on the table. We know that we can grow the economy by $5 trillion over the next five years if we actually address discrimination targeted at Black Americans alone. We can actually see the economy grow over the next five years, and we know that if we invest in equitably housing policies, things like special purpose credit programs and first generation down payment assistance programs, we can actually utilize those programs to provide for equitable opportunities to really help expand the housing market and bring in the very consumers that our system is leaving behind. And we have a chance to really grow the economy, which could result in thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars to local economies through local revenues.

Mike Watson: Another fantastic datapoint for us all to be aware of as we're having these conversations, Nikitra, thank you so much. Now I'm going to pivot a little bit to a point that was raised by Secretary Marcia Fudge who joined us yesterday, which is around listening, showing up, and engaging residents. We also heard other panelists talk about it, and one of the questions that we're seeing here is around equity and engagement. How, as we're kind of having these conversations, looking at zoning, looking at planning, how can we ensure that equity is at the center of our outreach and also the conversations that we're having and the folks we're talking to. Are there any great examples that you've seen from across the country that folks should be aware of? Nikitra, let's start with you, and then go to Bryan.

Nikitra Bailey: Sure. Many localities engage in work around Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing act. Most people don't realize that the Fair Housing Act has two critical portions. First, it is designed to root out discrimination, and then second, there is an affirmative responsibility to make sure every community is inclusive and thriving for all people. So the AFFH provisions actually allow for robust community engagements amongst municipalities with their local residents. They're actually supposed to do analysis and pull in recommendations based on community needs, so our fair housing laws and requirements actually are tools from local communities to really engage communities and make sure community voices are setting fair and equitable housing policies for their localities and jurisdictions.

Mike Watson: Fantastic, thank you, Nikitra. Bryan, what would you like to add to that?

Bryan Greene: Well, you know, many people point to Montgomery County, Maryland, as an example of a community that looked south and saw some of the challenges that D.C. faced in the 1960s because of segregation, because of the lack of opportunity, because of the disinvestment in Washington D.C.'s black neighborhoods, and they took the affirmative step to create inclusionary zoning, and while, you know, no place is perfect, there they recognized what happens when you keep communities out, keep populations out, and that you can be preventive by planning in such a way to include all.

So there are historical examples in different places of communities that have tried to lead the way. No places has been perfect, no place has been very bold, but they're on the right path, and so I think we need to look at those models, encourage those models, and update them to meet the needs of the present day.

Mike Watson: Thank you very much for that, Bryan. As Rodney has shared with us earlier and Samar mentioned earlier, there's no silver bullets, but the example you just talked about sounds like lots of ways to begin to address this. On that point, one of the questions that we've seen in here, which is a pretty common question we've gotten throughout this entire workshop is, what are the one or two things that you would recommend that a community do if they were to kind of leave this workshop and go and organize in their community and try to push for some action. What's the one or two things that you would suggest that they go and do? Bryan, let's start with you and then go to you, Nikitra.

Bryan Greene: So you know, this is maybe a different kind of suggestion, but I honestly think in order to build public support for much of what we need to do, people need to know the history. And so I think in almost sort of a truth and reconciliation fashion, communities need to look at their history together to understand what has created the disparities, what has created the segregation, what has created the lack of opportunity, and work from there, because once you do that, you begin to recognize that some of these problems we face, you know, were self-made, and that there's a way to unwind them. And it creates a justification for some of the more conscious efforts that communities need to undertake. But you need, I think, that underpinning in order to start.

Mike Watson: Very well said, Bryan, starting with your history and looking back and having those conversations from there. Nikitra, what would you like to add to that?

Nikitra Bailey: Two things. We really need to have restorative practices. Bryan is absolutely right, that our history is very important. So one thing initially I would recommend is the utilization of special purpose credit programs. Special purpose credit programs are permissible under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of Regulation B, and they allow for the targeting of [inaudible] productions designed to specifically advantage an economically disadvantaged group of people. So that's something that we could do. We could also create first generation down payment assistance programs. Because of our history of leaving communities behind, whole communities are locked out of access to homeownership and targeting first generation down payment assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged communities, allows us to really expand homeownership in those really hard hit communities, including communities of color, but also in rural communities all over the country that have been left behind by similar practices. We know that a well-designed first generation down payment assistance program can really help grow about five million new homebuyers. So that's communities all over the country having the opportunity to have owner/occupants in the position to purchase homes and communities instead of seeing 1 out of 7 homes being purchased by investors. We could do more to empower our neighbors and community members to have a seat at the table and be able to enter into homeownership and reap the benefits that homeownership provide for communities all over the country.

Mike Watson: Wow, thank you, Nikitra and Bryan, that was fantastic, and Nikitra, another great data-driven answer there as well. I think we've seen a lot of questions in the chat which we'll not be able to get to, asking for sources in your facts and figures, so we'll be sure to share those with you later as well. And I want to thank you all again for joining us, thank Samar, thank you, Bryan, and thank you, Nikitra. This is a really, really important conversation, and we were really glad that we were able to have it.

We're now going to move on in our program and to wrap up our conversation, but not completely wrap it up, it's going to be part of our work moving forward on equity. 

Page published October 2022

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