Dear research colleagues,

Many of you have written to us asking about the latest threat to our shared federal civil rights infrastructure - the "Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017," which is not just an assault on the Fair Housing Act , but also an attack on the basic project of analyzing spatial and racial disparities in American society. 

A few weeks ago, we were not taking this threat very seriously (similar bills have quickly died in the past), but there is a possibility that stronger action will need to be taken soon.  We are not asking you to "do" anything at the Congressional level just yet, but we would appreciate if you could read through our collective thoughts below so that you are ready if we need your help - thanks!

Alert:
 
Equity advocates across multiple fields are being called to join with researchers and the fair housing community to combat a threatened rollback to civil rights. Our shared concern is over the so-called "Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017," ( H.R. 482 in the House and  S. 103 in the Senate), introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). This legislation would destroy the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing" rule, which aids state and local governments and the public in implementing the Fair Housing Act and provides tools for them to use in understanding and addressing discrimination, segregation, and community development needs. The bill would also bar the use of federal funds to "design, build, maintain, utilize or provide access to a federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing" - a targeted kneecapping of civil rights oversight in housing, public health, transportation, education, and other aspects of opportunity, and hobbling for researchers and community policymakers seeking evidence-based planning or advocacy tools.  
 
Action:
 
At this time, legislative advocates ask that you educate your networks about this threat in order to form alliances and open lines of communication among fair housing advocates, other civil rights and social justice advocates, and advocates focusing on data tools. The "AFFH" provision of the bill would be a severe rollback of key gains made by the fair housing community and would impair widespread local advocacy efforts on issues such as better enforcement of housing discrimination laws, anti-displacement measures, equitable transit-oriented development, lead remediation, oversight of development subsidies, and counseling for housing voucher clients.
 
Fair housing advocates therefore are asking that partners in other fields who are responding to the bill's data prohibition provision also raise their voices to protect the AFFH rule.
 
As of early February 2017, legislative strategists have advised us to hold off from initiating new widespread lobbying on these proposed bills. We are advised that calling attention to the bills beyond the congressional committee level may be counterproductive at this time. Please watch for updates or contact PRRAC or the National Fair Housing Alliance for current information.
 
Communication:
 
The following information and messaging may be helpful in speaking about the bill.
  • The AFFH rule implements a longstanding provision of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, a cornerstone of the civil rights legislation passed following the assassination of Dr. King and broad social demonstrations. The rule helps communities "take significant actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, achieve truly balanced and integrated living patterns, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination." 
  • The 2015 AFFH rule was produced through extensive piloting, open commenting, and widespread stakeholder consultations. This bill would not only squander that process, it would prevent HUD from using deploying its expertise to issue any "substantially similar" regulation. It would also specifically prioritize consultation with government entities (city, county, state and public housing agency officials).
  • Local flexibility: The AFFH rule is a flexible yet meaningful approach to identifying and addressing recipients' particular fair housing issues. Its tools strike a sensible balance by providing data, soliciting additional information to the degree it is needed (but not costly), and requiring community input. This structure provides for individualized local action and encourages cross-sectoral, inter-agency collaborations.
  • Smarter, more sustainable planning: The AFFH process offers a pioneering but highly-practical approach to community investments and planning, by analyzing fair housing in connection with related aspects of opportunity, such as transportation, education, environmental health, and employment. 
  • As many of you have pointed out, the data provision is sweeping and aggressive: Federal demographic data is fundamental to results-oriented program design and evaluation. This cuts to the quick of fair housing enforcement, particularly in a field where governmental policies (in combination with private discrimination) once created an infrastructure of racial segregation that still shapes many communities today. The bill's data provision could be equally destructive in other fields, such as public health, environmental justice, and transit equity - striking at core areas of civil rights, physical security, social mobility, and participation in the workforce and other aspects of society.
  • Data is crucial to expose and counter discriminatory practices and policies: Research and experience shows that benefits and burdens are inequitably distributed due to implicit biases and the perpetuating cycle of structural discrimination, as well as continuing intentional discrimination. Data is needed in order to accurately and efficiently identify where discrimination may be occurring, and respond accordingly. Data is also used to ward off additional social costs by anticipating and preventing discrimination, through the analysis of trends and patterns, and ensuring that policies are better-designed to serve legitimate, nondiscriminatory ends. 
  • The data provision bars access to justice and disempowers communities: Data is important not only to policymakers, but also to community members who seek protection through the laws, or to effect structural change either through the courts or participation in political processes. Preventing access to data - particularly in the kind of accessible format offered by the AFFH tools - is counter to our values of full participation in all levels and branches of democracy.
              - Megan Haberle (mhaberle@prrac.org) and Phil Tegeler, PRRAC

PRRAC
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