For decades HUD has been frustrated that as it hands out millions in assistance to the nation’s metropolitan areas, it sees too little change in patterns of racial and economic segregation. To try to change this pattern, HUD has required local governments to engage in fair housing planning, which even HUD has conceded has amounted too often to little more than paperwork. Now HUD is trying a new approach, the Fair Housing Equity Assessment (FHEA), which at least holds the potential to have some real impact. 

The FHEA can be viewed as both a powerful data analysis and mapping tool, and a new conceptual approach to Fair Housing, focused on the notion of how to connect low income households and communities of color more effectively to the region’s “opportunity assets,” things like jobs, high performing schools, safe neighborhoods and transit. The Met Council has been charged with developing the FHEA for the Twin Cities region, but it has collaborated closely with a number of community groups, researchers and advocates – including HPP – in building the FHEA tool. The FHEA identifies five indicators of opportunity – jobs, good schools, safe neighborhoods, social supports, and a healthy environment – and then has performed a cluster analysis to illustrate in map form how different parts of the region cluster together based on a similar mix of opportunity assets. 

The FHEA also extensively analyzes what HUD calls Racially Concentrated Areas of Poverty, or RCAPs, of which there are five in the region. HUD is calling for a special focus on RCAPs by local planners, with an eye toward reducing them by both providing avenues for people to move to higher opportunity areas, and by increasing opportunities within RCAPs. To date, policymakers in the region who have viewed FHEA results so far have been particularly disturbed by the dramatic expansion of RCAP areas over the last decade.What difference will the FHEA make? HUD expects regional policymakers to take the results seriously and to use the FHEA to inform the long term regional land use planning currently underway. But ensuring that FHEA will have some impact is also up to advocates and local community groups. HPP sees the FHEA as providing a possible lever for the adoption of regional and more local policies and investments which effectively reduce the disparities in access to opportunity that exist in the Region. That’s why HPP has devoted considerable effort to building the FHEA into as robust a tool as possible, and to use it to push for more equitable outcomes in regional planning. For more information, click here.

The Twin Cities is one of a handful of metro areas now in the middle of developing the first ever FHEAs. It now appears that this FHEA experience will give Twin Cities policymakers and stakeholders a leg up on fulfilling Fair Housing responsibilities.  Within the last week (July 2013) HUD published a long awaited proposed rule fleshing out the responsibilities of local governments and housing agencies on satisfying a particular part of the federal Fair Housing Act, the obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing,” (AFFH).  The duty to AFFH has been generally understood to promote racial and economic integration in housing, but to date has never clearly been defined. HUD’s new rule generally incorporates the FHEA approach to engaging in fair housing planning and subsequent action steps.