In addition to making critical connections between housing opportunities and obstacles within a wider systemic context, it’s also important for advocates and policymakers to know how to successfully navigate the AFFH process to ensure that it meets the needs of the communities it is intended to serve.
To do so, Chung recommends pointedly working to gain insight into and uplift community voices to ensure they are part of the planning and feedback process. One way to do so is through making input into the AFFH process accessible for non-English speakers. This is critical because, as Chung points out, “there are voices and great ideas and suggestions we’re not getting because people have English language proficiency challenges.”
Chung adds that advocates must also proactively seek out communities that don’t have organized representation in the planning process. “You have to be proactive. There are communities out there that are well-organized and they have community stewards [to represent their interests in the planning process]. I see that a lot in wealthier communities with majority white populations versus communities of color. So, that means that we have to proactively reach out to these communities to make sure their voices are heard.” She emphasizes that it’s imperative to work to build trust with these communities, cultivate relationships, and identify potential stewards to represent community interests.
Hanuman agrees that it is critical to tap into community perspectives, especially through obtaining up-to-date data from community groups. “The best practice that our community advocates engaged in was taking information from the ground and injecting that into the process. The data is the key piece … that informs everything else. Having the most complete dataset in terms of housing need and particularly different races, ethnicities, disabilities — all of these are fair housing considerations. If we don’t have accurate data to begin with then we can’t begin to solve that problem.”
She adds that community groups play critical roles in ensuring that this data is truthful and that the full story behind community housing decisions and perspectives is being told. “The data needs to be ‘ground-truthed’ by community groups,” Hanuman emphasizes. “Trends on the ground that are happening may or may not be reflected in the most recent academic report. [For example], you can look at things like eviction records in courthouses. You can talk to legal services groups that are representing tenants who are getting evicted. You can talk to non-profit affordable developers that are trying to build affordable housing that may look like the zoning allows it, but politics or dollars are getting in the way rather than the technical rule of law.”
Getting this on-the-ground data is critical for understanding, and then effectively addressing, the real barriers to affordable housing access. “These things can get very nuanced and very complex — and the stories need to be told in order for the problem to begin to be solved,” Hanuman notes. “So that’s a huge role for community groups, is ‘ground-truthing’ to really understand what is the origin of our housing crisis right now. And only then will we have a chance at coming up with a true, inclusive fair housing solution.”
Published: Dec. 16, 2022