July 30, 2020

Correcting the Record on Fair Housing, Property Values and Crime

Fair housing

At Enterprise, our vision is that one day, every person will have an affordable home in a vibrant community, filled with promise and the opportunity for a good life. We work with communities all over the country that share that vision, taking action to dismantle policies and practices that have led to income inequality and segregation. These communities are working to uphold their values and comply with their responsibility to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

This mouthful refers to a legal duty and a set of regulations for communities receiving HUD grants. It’s complex, so conversations around the topic have typically been limited to those engaged on fair housing and affordable housing policy. But recently “AFFH,” as it is often referred to shorthand, has been getting a lot more attention. On Thursday, July 23, HUD unveiled a regulation that shockingly terminated the 2015 AFFH rule in one swoop, without an opportunity for public comment. In light of the country’s racial justice movement, people took note, but what elevated the national discussion of a wonky regulation, was on Wednesday, July 29, when President Trump used Twitter to frame the termination of the AFFH rule as a relief for suburbs who were “bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in [their] neighborhood,” and made incorrect assertions that low-income housing lowers property values and increases neighborhood crime. 

Enterprise strongly opposes the full repeal of the AFFH rule because it is a major setback in how our federal government promotes fair housing. We reject the dangerous and false narrative that low-income or affordable housing is undesirable in neighborhoods and threatening to a “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” or any American Dream for that matter. This narrative is not new, but an amplification of historic NIMBYism and the othering of people of color that drove segregated housing patterns for decades. It is a narrative founded in racism and poverty stereotyping, and one that completely contradicts Enterprise’s commitment to healing, to fostering inclusive communities, and to providing equal access to opportunity. It is one that must be addressed head-on.

First, it is important for us to debunk that the AFFH rule was designed to “hurt” suburban communities. The prior AFFH rule was a carefully constructed, long overdue policy and served as a guide for implementing a legal duty to further fair housing more than 50 years after the Fair Housing Act. It did not explicitly target suburban communities, but provided guidance for all communities benefiting from HUD funding to evaluate segregated housing patterns and other barriers to fair housing. That being said, the President’s tweets imply that the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” is one where suburban communities do not have low-income housing built in them. That vision is indefensible because it means excluding access to those neighborhoods for low-income people, often people of color, including those working every day in low-wage jobs in those very communities. That is not a vision that we believe most suburban communities truly hold. 

Research has soundly debunked the misperception that low-income housing is fated to lower nearby property values. There has been sufficient evidence that points to the contrary. Mixed-Income LIHTC Developments in Chicago: A First Look at Their Income Characteristics and Spillover Impacts, a 2019 study co-authored by Enterprise’s VP of Policy Development Andrew Jakabovics, found that in general, the introduction of a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit) development into a Chicago neighborhood had a positive, statistically significant effect on local property values. The study found that once a Housing Credit development went into service in the City of Chicago, surrounding property values increased by 10.8 percentage points relative to the Cook County average. A 2016 Trulia study examined changes in nearby home values before and after a Housing Credit property was completed and found that in the nation’s 20 least affordable markets, there was no significant effect on home values located near a low-income housing development. The research concluded that “the bottom line for NIMBYs who fear that property values will take a hit when a low-income housing project locates nearby is that their anxiety is largely unfounded – at least in cities where housing is either expensive or in short supply.” 

Lastly, perhaps the oldest cover for racism and tool in the NIMBY toolbox that we must continue to debunk, is that low-income housing increases crime rates. A 2015 study found that Housing Credit properties reduced crime rates in distressed communities and had no effect on crime rates in high-opportunity neighborhoods. And this overused false narrative doesn’t leave room for all of the benefits of Housing Credit properties in terms of poverty alleviation and economic mobility. A 2019 study found that each additional year a child spent in a Housing Credit home is associated with a 3.5 percent increase in the likelihood of attending a higher education program for four years or more, and a 3.2 percent increase in future earnings. 

Here is the bottom line about AFFH, and fair and affordable housing more broadly. The rescinded AFFH rule was not an attack on anyone or any given community, but a roadmap for all of us to do better. It was about our commitment to providing fair and equal access to housing in a range of communities, as Congress and President Lyndon Johnson charged the nation to do when enacting the Fair Housing Act in 1968. This charge has been upheld by the Supreme Court. It applied to recipients of HUD grants, not to individual suburban homeowners, and merely sustained that communities receiving grants from the federal government should use taxpayer dollars fairly. It was and still is necessary, because without intentional policies to undo structural racism and hold communities accountable, it doesn’t happen. 

We cannot let false narratives about low-income and affordable housing sway the national discourse, because the truth is that the people who live in affordable housing and need it to thrive are hard-working individuals and families, veterans, seniors, persons with disabilities, service providers and health care workers and a diverse range of individuals who belong and contribute to the fabric of our communities. Protecting the dignity of millions of Americans who need affordable housing regardless of the coming and going of policies is imperative. We must maintain our commitment to fostering equitable and inclusive communities – for all of us – with or without federal mandates. 

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