By Crystal LaTier, Housing & Community Development Senior Analyst, El Paso County, Colorado
Due to the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule, communities receiving federal housing and community development funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were required to approach fair housing planning in a new way. The new way came in the form of a planning tool known as the Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH). This tool was implemented to assist communities with taking meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.
The timing of the submission requirement for the AFH was directly tied to a community’s Consolidated Plan schedule. The AFFH Rule required that a community must have a HUD accepted AFH before HUD would review your next Consolidated Plan. This was a substantial change to how past fair housing planning- Analysis of Impediments (AI) - were administered and enforced. The new rule ensured that communities had local fair housing plans implemented with very specific components, before even considering how to plan and prioritize federal housing and community development funds from HUD. Furthermore, all communities nationwide had to complete the same planning template (AFH) and include analysis of HUD provided nationally uniform demographic, housing and mapping data. The AFH was very prescriptive and communities had to focus on four important components of the plan: a community participation process; assessment of past goals and actions; fair housing analysis to include: demographic summary, segregation and integration, racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty (R/ECAPs), disparities in access to opportunity, disproportionate housing needs, publicly supported housing analysis, disability and access analysis, and fair housing enforcement, outreach capacity and resource analysis; and fair housing goals and priorities. Like any new public policy, the AFH was met with much anticipation, political controversy, and confusion on the best way to implement.
El Paso County, Colorado was the first community in HUD Region VIII who was required to submit an AFH with a submission date of early October 2016. Our experience was unique in that we were part of the first nationwide group complying with the new rule and tool. While ultimately, El Paso County’s AFH was accepted by HUD in December 2016, there were challenges along the way that provided opportunities for learning, professional development, and a well informed fair housing plan. Below you will note six of the most significant challenges El Paso County faced during the development of their Assessment of Fair Housing:
- Public/Political Perception of the AFFH Rule and AFH Tool: Depending upon the political and demographic makeup of your community, you may need to have preemptive discussions with elected officials, community organizations, and residents.
- HUD’s Involvement & HUD HQ’s encouragement to complete regional plans: Strong communication with your regional HUD FHEO Office is encouraged. HUD also strongly encouraged communities to create regional plans. While this can produce well informed regional plans, there are a number of factors including political and legal issues (how will you structure MOUs, responsible program participants, local policies and investment, etc…) that can arise.
- Resources Needed for Completion: HUD estimated 200 hours of staff time with no additional planning and administration funding. We tallied more than double the estimated hours.
- Guidance with Supplied/Needed Resources: Mapping/Data Tool (nationally uniform data), Secured Systems Interface, AFFH Rule Guidebook (219 pages), AFH Tool Template, Access to Local Data. While the systems and templates were intuitive and prescriptive (in our opinion), the need to access a robust amount of other local data and the accuracy of rural data can prove to be problematic. Additionally, differing staff capacity levels with new resources may be problematic.
- Public Participation/Community Involvement: The AFH Tool requires robust public participation/community involvement. How will that look for our community? This is imperative for developing an effective AFH, but it requires significant staff time being spent on creative planning efforts, consultations, and public meetings.
- Effective and Realistic Ways to Turn Fair Housing Goals and Priorities into Meaningful Actions: This is a strong theme throughout both the AFFH Rule and AFH Tool and this is the step that most communities had the challenges with. Discussions about successful ways to implement goals would be very helpful to any and all communities. Components to consider are: goals; contributing factors; fair housing issues; and metrics, milestones and timeframe for achievement.
In January 2018, HUD issued a notice extending the deadline for submission of the Assessment of Fair Housing for Consolidated Plan Participants. This notice explained that program participants would not be required to submit an AFH until after 2020, but that they must continue to comply with existing obligations to affirmatively further fair housing and update their AI. According to the FAQs released from HUD the extension occurred because:
To date, 49 Assessments of Fair Housing (AFHs) have been submitted to HUD using the new format established by the AFFH Final Rule and the Assessment of Fair Housing Tool for Local Governments. HUD’s analysis of these AFHs shows that more than one third (35%) of all AFH submissions were non-accepted by HUD on first submission.
HUD’s analysis identified several reasons that merit a delay of AFH submission deadlines, including program participants’ need for additional technical assistance. HUD determined that many program participants struggled to meet the regulatory requirements of the AFFH rule, such as developing goals that could be reasonably expected to result in meaningful actions to overcome the effects of contributing factors and related fair housing issues. Further, program participants struggled to develop metrics and milestones that would measure their progress as they affirmatively furthering fair housing. HUD determined that program participants’ frequent misunderstanding of how to set clear goals, metrics, and milestones that addressed their identified contributing factors and related fair housing issues often resulted in non-accepted AFHs.
With the release of the extension notice many communities have been left wondering: What is next? Numerous communities were already months into the AFH planning process and many had already hired consultants to help them meet the requirement of the AFFH Rule. As of now, communities are encouraged to complete an updated Analysis of Impediments while continuing to affirmatively further fair housing. As a community which has completed both the Analysis of Impediments and an Assessment of Fair Housing (in-house), we see areas of overlap and would recommend that communities closely examine the following components of the fair planning process regardless of the plan template they are using:
- HUD’s Mapping and Data Tool- with special attention given to racially/ethnically concentrated areas of poverty (R/ECAPs)
- Embrace the Robust Public Participation/Community Involvement Guidance
- Implement Fair Housing Goals (which directly tie to identified fair housing issues and include metrics/milestones and timeframe for achievement)
Links included within the article
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule
A Notice Extending the Deadline for Submission of the Assessment of Fair Housing
FAQs: Federal Register Notice: Extension of Deadline for Submission of Assessment of Fair Housing for Consolidated Plan Participants
HUD’s Mapping and Data Tool