When the Obama administration announced the AFFH rule 2015, we hoped it would provide an avenue for neighbors in communities across the country to dream, plan, and act together to promote fair housing opportunity and boost quality of life, particularly for Black residents and others who have been historically marginalized. Los Angeles County’s experience suggests our hopes were well-founded. As communities proceed with their own AFFH processes, they should keep in mind three words that Chung and Hanuman returned to repeatedly during our interviews: inclusive, intentional, and holistic.
An inclusive approach is essential not only because AFFH is meant to remedy decades-long exclusion of Black residents and residents of color from housing opportunity, but also because it is key to ensuring that new policies fully reflect the experiences and aspirations of these residents. Inclusivity also fosters community buy-in to the process itself, making the adoption of derivative policy changes more politically feasible and, just as importantly, more likely to produce desired outcomes.
Similarly, planners, advocates, and resident participants should be intentional about the type of outreach, process, and outcomes for which they are thriving. Hanuman’s observation about ensuring that “protections and opportunities are done with intentionality” particularly struck me. Reversing the effects of discriminatory housing policies can only be accomplished through a process that thoughtfully, specifically, and directly aims to produce a better quality of life for marginalized residents in neighborhoods they already call home, as well as creates greater housing opportunity in those same neighborhoods and in “higher opportunity areas.” The best practices outlined by Chung and Hanuman, including addressing short and long-term housing needs and subjecting data to “ground-truthing,” are key to intentionality.
Communities would do well to view AFFH as a chance to impact more than housing alone. Indeed, as Los Angeles County’s experience demonstrates, the Assessment of Fair Housing can be a powerful tool to address all that’s connected to how and where people live, from educational achievement, economic development, and environmental justice to health outcomes and transit opportunities. A holistic planning approach that includes reliable data to connect the dots of opportunity can, as Chung notes, “help communities that are in need immediately, but also plant the seeds to reverse” decades of exclusion, underinvestment, and neglect.
A holistic approach is also vital to understanding how to strike the elusive balance between expanding housing opportunity in “higher opportunity areas” and providing better quality of life in traditionally neglected and underserved Black neighborhoods. It means realizing that these goals are not mutually exclusive — not an either/or proposition. Instead, a both/and approach is required. Ultimately, the goal should be to provide low-income residents with affordable, attractive housing options that offer a good quality of life, no matter where they choose to live.
Finally, communities don’t have to wait for an Assessment of Fair Housing to plan inclusively and holistically with the goal of transforming the lives of Black residents and other vulnerable residents. My hope is that, over time, AFFH will stimulate a “dream-plan-act” muscle memory in communities — a willingness, and even an eagerness, to plan regularly with an equity lens on housing, education, health, economic development, and so much more. AFFH can be an excellent way to jumpstart that, but such efforts can also be done “out of cycle,” so to speak.
In fact, now is a particularly opportune moment for local communities to do so. The coronavirus pandemic upended life as we knew it for many Americans, particularly low-income communities and communities of color. Now is the time to hear about their needs and to reassess how to meet those needs. Moreover, hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic aid, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments, and Inflation Reduction Act funds are flowing to states and local governments, delivering to them considerable federal resources to turn their plans into reality. Local policy makers who are serious about doing things differently and better have a once-in-a-lifetime moment to act with purpose.
I want to thank Connie Chung and Shashi Hanuman for providing valuable insight into Los Angeles County’s Housing Element process. Los Angeles County’s plan was adopted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on May 17, 2022, and certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development 10 days later. It is currently being implemented.
Published: Dec. 16, 2022