Ever since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the federal government has been obligated to try and foster inclusive, diverse communities. In practice, that means moving poor, black families into richer, white neighborhoods and providing grants for improving areas of concentrated poverty.
But for decades, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, has fallen short of these goals, and at times its efforts have even backfired, perpetuating patterns of segregation by building more housing for America’s poorest in America’s poorest neighborhoods. Deep racial and economic segregation continues to dictate where Americans live.
“One of the problems with the failure to really give this statutory provision meaning and teeth up until now is that people could pretend it didn’t mean anything, and failure to comply with it didn’t have consequences,” said Betsy Julian, the president of Inclusive Communities Project, a Dallas non-profit that recently won a Supreme Court case protecting parts of the Fair Housing Act. (Julian also served as HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the Clinton Administration.)
On Wednesday, HUD took a big step toward fixing its own ineffectiveness, releasing a new rule that requires that cities and regions evaluate the presence of fair housing in their communities, submit reports detailing the presence of segregation and blight, and detail what they plan to do about it. Communities will be required to hold meetings or otherwise solicit public opinion about housing planning and integration every five years, and will have a new trove of resources to assess their progress.