Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Local Responses to Global Climate Change

by Jill Schmidt
Graduate Research
From September’s destructive hurricanes to the devastating fires in California, recent natural disasters across the US have underscored the many ways in which climate change is affecting urban areas. Moreover, while these unpredictable disasters garner significant attention, climate change is also intensifying important long-range weather-related hazards such as heat waves, extreme precipitation, desertification, and loss of biodiversity.

Taken together, such effects – as well as the rollback of federal-level policies – can discourage and overwhelm those facing climate-change related impacts in their communities. However, as varied examples from Florida, the west coast, Boston, and Boulder show, many states and localities are taking meaningful steps to prepare for and perhaps even mitigate the effects of climate change at the municipal, neighborhood, and household levels.

Homes damaged by Hurricane Andrew, 1992 (Wikipedia)

September’s Hurricane Irma, for example, showed the positive impacts of successful efforts to update Florida’s building codes in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, which was the costliest natural disaster to affect the United States when it struck that state in 1992. After that disaster, many Florida residents pressed the state to update its building code (and for localities to enforce it). Two years later, the state approved a new building code focused on increasing the likelihood that buildings could resist hurricane-force winds by requiring such elements as shatterproof windows, fortified roofs, and reinforced concrete pillars. The code also requires that roofs be built of plywood and fastened with roofing nails (instead of less expensive but less resilient approaches that relied on particle board secured by staples).

While these provisions are supposed to ensure that structures can withstand winds of up to 111 miles per hour, Miami-Dade and Broward counties went even further by requiring that new buildings be able to withstand winds of at least 130 mph. (Moreover, as of January 2018, the codes for the two counties will also include new elevation minimums for new construction and substantial improvements to existing structures in flood hazard areas.) The strengthened requirements helped minimize damage from Hurricane Irma, according to Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council (the region’s official economic council). In an op-ed that appeared in the Miami Herald, he wrote: Most property and buildings escaped with little or no structural damage. The impact could have been much worse, were it not for the lessons learned and actions taken to fortify buildings and properties after Hurricane Andrew and subsequent storms.”

California wildfires, 2017 (Wikipedia)

In the western part of the United States, where wildfires are a significant threat,
Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) is helping communities take advantage of land-use planning to reduce the risk of damages from fires. CPAW is a partnership funded by the U.S. Forest Service and private foundations, and is run by Headwaters Economics and Wildfire Planning International. The organization focuses particularly on protecting the wildland-urban interface where human habitations are sparse but increasing numbers of built structures can serve as fuel that can help wildfires spread. Since its founding in 2015, CPAW has helped 18 cities and towns develop plans to limit fires and reduce property damage by creating “defensible spaces” – areas cleared of vegetation and other flammable materials as well as paths that firefighters can use to fight approaching fires.

Similiarly, in Boston, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), a community development corporation in the city’s East Boston neighborhood, used funding from the Kresge Foundation to launch ClimateCARE (Community Action for Resilience Through Engagement). The effort, which focuses on near-term needs related to energy efficiency, disaster emergency planning, and social resiliency is trying to help residents prepare and plan for the impacts of climate change, which could be significant because much of the neighborhood is built on landfill in Boston Harbor. One notable part of this effort is a “Basement Cleanup” program, which helps residents remove clutter, minimize the risk of toxic leaks, prevent safety and health threats, and safely store sentimental and important objects. Building in part on this work, the City of Boston announced last fall that it was taking steps to protect East Boston and nearby Charlestown from current and future flooding as a result of climate change.

A fourth notable example that addresses the mitigation of climate change is Boulder, which in 2007 became the first city in the nation to have a voter-approved tax dedicated to addressing climate change. The Climate Action Plan (CAP) tax is levied on electric bills. Rates vary for residential, commercial, and industrial users; the average annual tax is $21/year for residential users, $94 for commercial accounts, and $9,400 for industrial users. Although the revenue funds many programs, one program of note is EnergySmart, an energy-advising service and rebate program for residents who make energy efficiency investments. Over 9,700 households in Boulder have participated in EnergySmart since its inception in 2010. The City of Boulder estimates that it has avoided the release of more than 50,000 metric tons of emissions between 2007 to 2015 as a result of CAP-funded programs, which has allowed the community to hold emissions constant amid population and economic growth.

While these efforts are notable, they can be difficult to implement, costly, and, at times, controversial. For example, mitigation plans are critiqued for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in one region but offset by increased or stagnant emissions in another locality. Further, many local decision-makers are hesitant to invest in preparing for risks when they face immediate challenges with limited budgets. However, prevention is likely to be more cost-effective than re-building and mitigation and adaptation projects can help communities avoid the costs associated with natural hazard disasters and devastation. Mitigation and adaptation initiatives may also offer promising opportunities to create local jobs, support emerging industries, and help build more inclusive and resilient communities. Given the gridlock at the federal level, such local initiatives may continue to be at the cutting edge of climate-change policymaking in the US for some time to come.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Furthering Fair Housing: It’s Not Too Late to Follow New Orleans’ Lead

by Cashauna Hill
Greater New Orleans Fair
Housing Action Center
Although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced that state and local entities will have more time to detail their plans to affirmatively further fair housing, some localities are moving forward. These include the City of New Orleans, which in October 2016 became the country’s first jurisdiction to submit a legally required Assessment of Fair Housing plan (AFH).

New Orleans’ AFH, which was submitted jointly by the city government and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), not only represents a shift in the way that jurisdictions report on the state of housing access in their communities but also could serve as a model for other jurisdictions around the country. Most notably, in accordance with guidance provided by HUD in 2015, the New Orleans AFH was prepared with significant community input. 

Specifically, at the outset of the process, the city and HANO partnered with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), which I lead, to ensure that the AFH reflected the concerns of community leaders and community-based organizations. To make this happen, GNOHFAC designed and implemented a community engagement strategy that aimed to organize, educate, and engage with community stakeholders—particularly leaders of color and organizations that represented communities of color. In addition to facilitating a robust community engagement process, the city and HANO welcomed GNOFHAC’s assistance in analyzing relevant data that was included in the AFH plan. Finally, GNOFHAC helped provide both context and data on public and private acts of discrimination that affect housing choices in the New Orleans market.

Taken as a whole, these activities created a process that reflected an unprecedented level of community engagement in planning the city’s fair housing efforts. This engagement led to several notable recommendations in the AFH, such as a framework for improving the access that Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) participants have to low-poverty, high-opportunity neighborhoods, particularly areas connected job centers via dependable public transit services. Community leaders also helped develop other important recommendations, such as developing and implementing a “strategic plan to address environmental hazards, including lead in water and housing.” The AFH’s recommendation to address substandard housing in New Orleans by establishing a rental registry also was a direct result of engagement with community members who often accept substandard conditions when seeking affordable rental housing.

As noted above, in January 2018 HUD announced that it intends to delay required submission of AFH plans from jurisdictions that have yet to submit them. For persons in communities without a commitment from city leadership, or where the AFH will not be submitted in the near future as planned, this change could make it harder for people of color and lower-income households to access higher-quality housing, and programs designed to support existing homeowners.

However, despite that change in HUD’s policies, implementation of New Orleans’ AFH’s recommendations is expected to continue without interruption. We commend policymakers and leaders in New Orleans for continuing to support equal access to housing and the positive life outcomes that flow from access to better housing. Further, we hope that even with the delays, other jurisdictions follow New Orleans’ lead and work with affected communities to develop meaningful efforts to achieve the Fair Housing Act’s long-standing goal of “affirmatively furthering fair housing” throughout the United States.

This post is a response to the Panel 4 papers that were presented at our A Shared Future symposium in 2017. These papers are available on the JCHS website

Monday, March 5, 2018

Collaborations by Design: CDFIs, Capital Absorption, and the Creation of Community Investment Systems

by Erin Shackelford
Initiative for
Responsible Investment
Rebuilding disinvested communities takes more than money. Rather, as research done by the Initiative for Responsible Investment (IRI) at the Harvard Kennedy School has shown, places that have been starved of resources for extended periods of time often lack the policies, practices, or relationships they need to effectively leverage existing or new resources.

IRI's capital absorption framework not only recognizes that there is a complex system that governs how resources flow into communities, it also provides a way to think beyond individual transactions to identify changes at a system level so that investment is used more effectively to achieve community goals. Potential system-level interventions can include bringing new partners to the table, identifying new resources that can be provided by existing partners, creating different ways of doing business, and changing the policies and relationships that determine the allocation of money and other resources.

Many of these approaches are central to strategies used in collaborative initiatives carried out by Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that have been funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s PRO Neighborhoods program. The growing collaboration among CDFIs—which can be banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions that have a primary mission to provide access to financial services in low-income communities—have included the development of joint products and services, efforts to share risk and expertise, jointly developed new technologies, and the development of larger scale projects which could attract additional investors.

A new case study, which uses this "capital absorption" framework to examine many of the collaborative efforts funded by the PRO Neighborhoods initiative, finds that the funding spurred three types of collaborations that together increased the CDFIs' ability to respond more effectively to key needs and concerns. In particular, the grants helped:
  1. Spur internal institutional change within CDFIs: Within institutions, flexible support to enter into new areas of lending, as provided by the PRO Neighborhoods grants, is tied to the ability to devote resources to strategic development and organizational learning. These are scarce resources for CDFIs, which, by necessity, tend to have a transactional focus. These resources can prove crucial for CDFIs seeking to expand their geographic and/or sectoral range, and those hoping to deepen engagement with the communities they serve.
  2. Foster collaboration among CDFIs: PRO Neighborhoods awards enabled CDFIs to share best practices, support collaborators with challenges, and closely observe (and learn from) each other's practices. The structured collaborations and regular exchanges that came with project execution shed light on new practices and built relationships that are likely to endure well beyond the grant cycle. These connections are critically important because finding the time and space to learn from peer institutions is a crucial aspect of organizational development.
  3. Expand CDFIs' connections with broader "Community Investment Systems": The benefits of collaboration came not just from the interchange among and between CDFIs, but also through the CDFIs' engagement with the larger "community investment systems" in the neighborhoods served by the various CDFIs. This occurred because the focus on innovation and collaboration led CDFI practitioners to engage with a variety of key actors in the broader ecosystem, including leaders of community advocacy groups, elected and appointed officials, representatives of local trade associations, and representatives of firms that provide collateral and financial services.
These conclusions suggest two key lessons for funders who want to effectively structure grant programs aimed at encouraging collaboration. These are:
  1. Collaboration takes a big incentive. Creating the time and space to establish an ongoing collaboration is challenging for organizations where time, staffing, and funding are constrained. The significant funding provided by the PRO Neighborhoods program offered a critical incentive for CDFIs to establish ongoing collaborations.
  2. Collaboration can take many forms, shaped by different systemic challenges. From a nationwide, spoke-and-wheel collaboration focused on addressing food deserts, to the collaboration of place-based actors to support the specific needs of their community, PRO Neighborhoods collaboratives are unique and varied in scope, shape, and sector. The funder's flexibility gave leaders of the CDFI collaboratives the time and space they needed to understand, identify, and address the different systemic challenges that existed in their unique sectors and places.
The capital absorption framework points to the importance of considering not just the transactions in question, but the broader system of community investment in which CDFIs operate. Funders and other actors in the community investment system can benefit from the observation and lessons that emerge as CDFIs collaboratively develop innovative practices to help revitalized disinvested communities.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Assessing Fair Housing: HUD's Delay and the Dilemma this Poses for Jurisdictions

by Katherine M. O'Regan,
How should the numerous jurisdictions poised to start their Assessments of Fair Housing (or those who are already mid-process) proceed in the wake of an announcement that the federal government planned to push back deadlines for using this specific form of assessment as part of their legally-required planning process?

That's the question facing thousands of entities after the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced in January that it was delaying a previously issued final rule requiring that jurisdictions receiving HUD funding conduct an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) to meet, in part, their obligation to comply with the federal Fair Housing Act's requirement that they "affirmatively further fair housing" (AFFH).

HUD's notice extended the AFH deadline for one cycle for jurisdictions that had not yet had an AFH accepted and whose AFH deadline date fell before October 31, 2020. These jurisdictions, the announcement emphasized, must still meet their AFFH obligations. During the delay, they must conduct an Analysis of Impediments (AI) to fair housing choice (as they had prior to HUD's final AFFH rule) and take appropriate actions to overcome impediments identified by the analysis. However, unlike an AFH, there is no standardized form or specific content required for an AI, it need not be submitted to HUD, and HUD will not review it. (While the notice specified that the delay would be applicable as of the day it was issued, public comments on the notice can be submitted through March 6, 2018.)

When the delay was announced, many jurisdictions were in the final stages of conducting their AFHs; hundreds more were about to start. This raises two related questions that this blog tries to briefly answer. First, what does this delay mean for these jurisdictions? Second, how should they proceed?

Returning to the Flawed Analysis of Impediments (AI) Process

The notice calls for jurisdictions to return to a process that both the GAO and HUD itself deemed to be highly flawed. A 2010 GAO study reported that only 64 percent of program participants appeared to have AIs that were current, and questioned the usefulness of many of the AIs that did exist. It concluded that "[a]bsent any changes in the AI process, they will likely continue to add limited value going forward in terms of eliminating potential impediments to fair housing that may exist across the country." HUD's own internal analysis in 2009 came to the same conclusion, finding that about half of the AIs it collected for the study were outdated. incomplete, or otherwise of unacceptable quality.

To address some of the concerns raised in the GAO's report, HUD requires that AFHs be conducted with a standardized assessment tool and that jurisdictions provide measurable goals with a timeline for achieving them. As part of its justification for AFH postponement, HUD noted that 35 percent of the first AFHs submitted to HUD were initially not accepted. The AFH process, however, requires that HUD give feedback on AFHs that are not accepted. HUD provided such feedback and worked with jurisdictions to resolve deficiencies in the submissions. Ultimately, almost all of the 49 first submissions were accepted. In contrast, with AIs, there is no review or feedback from HUD. Notably, HUD's 2009 internal report found no evidence that jurisdictions were improving their AIs over time.

The combination of tighter standards, a better assessment tool, and a feedback loop seems to have produced stronger plans, according to MIT's Justin Steil and Nicholas Kelly, who compared the first 29 AFHs (as modified in response to HUD's comments on initial submissions) to the AIs previously conducted by those same jurisdictions. They found that compared to the earlier AIs, the final AFHs included more quantifiable goals as well as more specific policies and programs meant to achieve those goals. Such results, they noted, suggest the rule is working. "[T]he non-acceptances provided participants with the opportunity to respond to HUD feedback and to strengthen their final AFHs so as to meet their fair housing obligations. In short, the non-acceptances should be seen as strengths of the new rule not a failure."

What is HUD's Advice for a Good AI? Conduct an AFH?

For jurisdictions that have already begun their AFH, HUD's notice states that jurisdictions may continue to do so, as "the AFFH rule may provide program participants with a useful framework for complying with their AFFH obligations." HUD encouraged all participants to use the data and mapping tools as well as the AFH Assessment Tool in conducting their AIs, and to collaborate with other submitters in their region. But this vague guidance puts jurisdictions in the precarious position of identifying which elements of the AFH tool and process are necessary to meet its AFFH obligations.

Will Legal Challenges Reinstate the AFH?

The Trump administration has been aggressive in its use of delays to forestall the implementation of rules, temporarily or indefinitely. Many of these delays have been successfully challenged in the courts under the Administrative Procedures Act, which governs most federal rulemaking. For example, in December 2017, the US District Court for the District of Columbia enjoined HUD's two-year delay of its Small Area Fair Market Rent (FMR) rule, which would have required 24 metropolitan areas to use ZIP-code-level FMRs in setting rent payment standards for voucher recipients. HUD has since dropped its plans for delay, and advised more than 200 affected public housing authorities they must implement the new process within three months.

While no lawsuit has yet been filed against HUD's AFH delay, it is likely to come. (In theory, HUD could also modify its announcement in response to public comments, which, as noted above, must be submitted by March 6.) This suggests that jurisdictions should carefully weigh the risk that the delay will be reversed, and their duty to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing, as they determine how to conduct their new AIs. HUD's AFFH framework and assessment tool seem the best place to start. Notably, officials in some jurisdictions, such as New York City, have made public statements that they will move forward with a process that is true to the principles of the AFH.

However, whether jurisdictions will stay true to key advantages of the AFH, including robust public engagement and an open and transparent drafting process, remains to be seen. As Michael Allen notes in his contribution to the Joint Center's panel "What would it take for the HUD AFFH rule to meaningfully increase inclusion?," that may depend on whether a broad set of constituents come together to mobilize a strong ground game. Meanwhile, until the uncertainty created by HUD's decision is resolved, the AFH process and assessment tool may provide the safest and clearest path forward for jurisdictions.

Papers from the A Shared Future symposium are available on the JCHS website

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What Would it Take for HUD to Meaningfully Increase Inclusion?

by Katie Gourley, Graduate Research Assistant

What would it take to meet the 1968 federal Fair Housing Act's requirement that federal entities use their power to "affirmatively further" fair housing? Four new papers published today look at this question by examining whether and how the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) now-delayed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule might spur more inclusive communities.

Under the rule, which was finalized in 2015, local and state institutions receiving federal housing funds must use maps and other local data to conduct an Analysis of Fair Housing (AFH), and also describe their goals for affirmatively furthering fair housing. Many advocates believed the rule was a long overdue effort to finally achieve one of the Fair Housing Act's key, but unmet, goals. However, critics, including many Republican members of Congress as well as then-presidential candidate (and now HUD Secretary) Ben Carson, criticized it as inappropriate social engineering. In January 2018, HUD announced that states and localities do not have to submit their analyses until 2020. While HUD's announcement also noted that entities still have a legal obligation to further fair housing, the rule's supporters fear the delay effectively suspends enforcement of the rule and gives HUD time to dismantle or substantially weaken the new rule. A group of civil rights organizations is currently preparing litigation to enjoin the suspension of action.

The papers, which were originally presented at the symposium A Shared Future: Fostering Communities of Inclusion in an Era of Inequality in April 2017 (before HUD suspended enforcement actions) examine the rule's potential to produce meaningful change and, in doing so, provide critical context for understanding the implications of HUD's decision to delay the submission of required plans. The four papers are:

Katherine O'Regan,
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing: The Potential and the Challenge for Fulfilling the Promise of HUD's Final Rule by Katherine O'Regan, the panel's moderator, begins by noting that while the Fair Housing Act codified an ambitious goal, the nation has long lacked a clear, effective, and politically acceptable processes for achieving that goal. After explaining how the AFFH process was supposed to work and discussing how it was received by a variety of stakeholders, O'Regan discusses how the panel's authors posed key questions about what it would take for the 2015 AFFH rule to meaningfully increase inclusion int he near future.

Raphael Bostic, USC
Arthur Alcolin,
U of Washington
The Potential for HUD's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule to Meaningfully Increase Inclusion by Raphael Bostic and Arthur Acolin discusses how the AFFH Final Rule might produce meaningful change. After reviewing the history of residential segregation in the US, the paper explains how the new rule would have differed from and improved upon previous efforts to "affirmatively further" fair housing. However, they note, the full impact of the rule will depend on HUD's commitment to its philosophy and HUD's devotion of resources to the implementation of the law. Moreover, they add, the rule's impact will also depend critically upon decisions by local governments, community organizations, and individuals to use the resources they have to effectively remove barriers to fair housing in their communities.

Michael Allen,
Relman, Dane &
Colfax, PLLC
Speaking Truth to Power: Enhancing Community Engagement in the Assessment of Fair Housing Process by Michael Allen notes that the new rule "sets the table for robust conversations about hard topics—like discrimination and segregation—that most communities have tried hard to avoid for decades." However, he notes, "it leaves to local discretion to how to get the right stakeholders to the table for those conversations." Achieving the rule's promise, he adds, can only occur in places where community groups, academics, and foundations make concerted efforts to develop and carry out AFFH plans. These efforts, he continues, need to include strategies to ensure meaningful participation by people of color and their advocates; local data collection and analysis; mobilization of political constituencies; and a commitment to enforcement via litigation, administrative complaints, and grassroots advocacy. Allen concludes by detailing six successful community housing justice campaigns—in New Orleans, Milwaukee, New Jersey, Texas, Westchester County (NY), and the Minneapolis/St. Paul region—that could serve models for advocates in other locales.

Elizabeth Julian,
Inclusive Communities
The Duty to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: A Legal as Well as Policy Imperative by Elizabeth Julian predicts that jurisdictions would respond to the new rule in one of our four basic ways. Some would accept that the letter and the spirit of the law have the capacity to develop and carry out an effective plan, while others would accept the rule's letter and spirit but lack the capacity to do so. Third, while some would accept the need to comply with the rule's requirements (if only to secure desired federal funding), they might be unwilling to develop an effective plan. Finally, some communities would resist the rule's letter and spirit. While HUD can help localities in the first three categories achieve meaningful progress, jurisdictions in the fourth "will have to be dealt with by an external, relatively independent, and well-resourced enforcement structure," she asserts. Even though HUD's current leaders are not likely to support this approach, Julian asserts that a long history of court decisions shows that civil rights advocates do have the tools needed to effectively press for desired changes.

Additional papers from the A Shared Future symposium are available on the JCHS website. The papers will also be collected into an edited volume to be published later this year.