Having a safe, decent, affordable place to call home is foundational to one’s stability and quality of life. It’s also true that, when it comes to improving opportunity for people, it is not enough to focus solely on housing. Housing is connected to education, health, transit, environment, economic opportunity, accessibility for the elderly and for individuals with disabilities, and more. The best local planning efforts connect the dots of opportunity and also recognize ways in which obstacles are connected to one another as well.
During our conversation, Chung emphasizes that incorporating AFFH into the county’s Housing Element really encouraged a holistic approach to planning that the county perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise considered. “We have a lot of programs we’re already doing, and one part of the Housing Element is just capturing these programs to see the big picture of how the county is responding to the housing crisis in different ways. But, it also was an opportunity to add an AFFH lens to these programs,” Chung describes.
“For instance, it’s not just looking at inclusionary housing, a policy we already have. [Instead, it’s about] what levers are we going to put within the zoning code to help us meet our AFFH goals. And to serve our R/ECAP [Racially/Ethnically Concentrated Areas of Poverty] communities, where are we going to focus our limited resources when we’re developing parks? Or thinking about the provision of infrastructure?”
Chung continues, “In a lot of ways, that part of the [AFFH] equation that focuses on serving R/ECAP communities, it gives us a chance to [shift] from focusing just on housing and being a little bit more holistic and comprehensive about how we serve these communities. And addressing things like deleting the digital divide and adding in more broadband infrastructure. … From a planning perspective, I appreciated that, because it gives us an opportunity to talk about these other issues related to housing when I don’t think we did that before in other Housing Elements.”
And, because of AFFH, environmental justice implications were just some of the many factors county planners considered in their zoning proposals. “We don’t want to just cram housing units,” Chung asserts. “This is why it’s important to do it in the context of comprehensive plans, where we’re looking at other considerations such as open space, parks, [and] mobility. And [it’s especially critical] with all of the opportunities right now that we have for infrastructure, including those capital improvements, to help the communities thrive with even more housing opportunities.”
For Hanuman, taking a holistic approach to fair housing also means being thoughtful about identifying the root causes of the housing crisis. As advocates assess the causes of the housing crisis over generations, it’s critical that they “don’t short-sightedly address the cause as excessive regulation that needs deregulation. [In terms of causes], you’re not just looking at lack of building, you’re looking at exclusionary actions that have kept people from accessing housing,” she emphasizes. “[You cannot mitigate this] … by deregulating and allowing the market to do its thing … the way to address that is by reregulating and ensuring opportunities for those populations that have been excluded. So, [it’s about] having development come with intentionality for the populations we’re trying to help.”
AFFH also pushed the county to strongly consider environmental justice implications — particularly the impact of pollution — when developing new planning proposals, especially those related to rezoning to increase housing supply, Chung notes. This is critical because building new housing units and increasing housing density can sometimes have negative environmental impacts on a community and the overall health of its residents.
“Where AFFH became helpful is … before we took [our planning proposals] out to the community … we had to use a point system to do our analysis,” Chung describes. “We added a lot of weighting factors. That included communities that have experienced environmental justice issues … We incorporated that into our weighing system to reduce the potential areas that would be rezoned or to distribute them a lot better so that we’re rezoning areas in those highest resource areas and not creating more housing to expose people to further impacts from pollution.”
Chung adds that, when the county was required to add more housing units in communities that have already endured significant environmental justice issues in order to meet housing needs, adding an AFFH lens to planning encouraged officials think creatively about how to add these units with minimal environmental and health impacts. “For those areas with the highest concentrations of exposure to pollution and racially and ethnically concentrated communities, we also tried to see if there were [existing] county-owned properties where we could meet a lot of the housing goals to avoid having to re-zone more communities,” she describes. “There are a lot of steps that we took that I don’t think we took in the past that we did specifically because of the AFFH requirement … And we will continue that trend.”
Published: Dec. 16, 2022