Why the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule Matters

The Biden Administration is at the point of releasing a final rule articulating the obligation of communities to “affirmatively further fair housing,” an important yet unrealized aspect of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. (Yes, 1968.) This will provide all of us who care about homelessness a new opportunity to make housing more available to people who have been shut out.

What is Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing?

“Affirmatively furthering fair housing” (AFFH) refers to taking intentional steps, using federal housing funding, to ensure that people in protected groups have housing that meets the goals of the Fair Housing Act. Protected groups are those who have experienced discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), and disability. Achieving fair housing has two aspects: first, ensuring no direct discrimination is taking place, including in geographic areas where people from protected groups are often screened out; and second, using federal funding to transform areas where protected groups have historically lived into more thriving communities.

The authors of the Fair Housing Act recognized that the effects of 350 years of slavery and its aftermath weren’t going to go away by themselves. So they included language to support the AFFH requirement with the idea that communities could use federal funding to undo the damage inflicted by racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and ableism. Nevertheless, no regulations were enacted aimed at serious implementation and enforcement until 2015, near the end of the Obama Administration. Those regulations were quickly reversed by the Trump Administration. The Biden Administration has now issued proposed final regulations that were supported by the Alliance and its partners. Comments have been collected, and final regulations are in the works.

Why AFFH is Important in the Work to End Homelessness

Federal homelessness programs are among the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding sources that come with an AFFH requirement, as are the housing choice voucher program and mainstream housing development programs. Ensuring compliance will be part of local implementation.

More profoundly, failure by communities to provide fair housing has been a long-term driver of homelessness, and achieving fair housing will help communities move toward ending homelessness. People trying to escape homelessness often find that practices prohibited by fair housing still exist. This makes it harder to attain housing because landlords discriminate based on race or gender or the presence of children, or fail to accommodate disabilities. Beyond compliance, people committed to ending homelessness will find that they will be called on to lead this work, building support by emphasizing the connection between fair housing and less homelessness. Communities that have been working to build more equity into their homeless assistance systems will find this to be a natural next step.

What AFFH Regulations Will Do, and How to Use Them

If the final regulations are similar to the Biden Administration’s proposed regulations, they will provide important opportunities for all of us. Each community will be required to develop a plan for fair housing, with participation from local government, nonprofits and others who receive or administer federal housing funding.

The plan will include processes to:

  • assess the impacts of discrimination on the community;
  • set objectives and strategies for improving the situation;
  • address the dual purposes of the Fair Housing Act:
    • to ensure that people in protected groups can have access to housing in any parts of the community, and
    • to ensure that areas of the community to which protected groups have historically been limited, and that provide limited economic, cultural, and other opportunities, become richer in those aspects.

For homeless programs specifically, there will be some key things to think about. Any program that rehouses people will need to make serious efforts to find housing throughout the community, and ensure that people have choices as to the kinds of neighborhoods they want to live in. To the extent housing for people who have been homeless is being developed, it can provide more opportunities to live in neighborhoods that are currently exclusively available to people with higher incomes; and it can improve neighborhoods that are occupied by people with lower incomes, by providing better housing, support programs, and job opportunities. In both regards, the entire community can get more involved in housing for people who have experienced homelessness, making the community better and stronger.

AFFH Can Help End Homelessness

Because homelessness is an important issue in the minds of majorities throughout the country, the message that better and fairer housing reduces homelessness can be one that strengthens support for AFFH across the board. People working on homelessness can lead these efforts, advocating for the importance of making housing overall more stable, concentrating on groups that have been left out of many opportunities, and who, not coincidentally, are overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness. The result will be fewer people losing housing, which means less homelessness and less of many other bad things that too many people have to face.

At the Alliance we believe that moving AFFH forward will be an important part of ending homelessness, and that the country has waited far too long. We look forward to the Biden Administration issuing the final rule and providing guidance and help to communities, and people who care about homelessness around the country leading the work to make it happen.

Additional AFFH Resources from the Alliance

For more information, visit the HUD web page on this issue, and see material prepared by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (on the Trump Administration roll-back of the Obama rule), and the National Fair Housing Alliance.