18 April 2023
Office of General Counsel
Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street SW, Room 10276
Washington, DC 20410-0500
Re: Docket No. FR-6250-P-01, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
This public comment to the proposed changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule is sent by the Detroit People’s Platform (DPP) in coalition with the Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry, Cityview Senior Towers Residents Council, and individuals named at the end of this letter. DPP’s work centers racial and economic justice in the country’s largest majority Black city. DPP works with grassroots community leaders to build systems and structures that create a more racially just Detroit. With this letter, we hope to shine a light on the struggles of extremely and very low-income residents in the United States’ largest majority Black city.
Black Detroiters face incredible difficulties in daily life: low-paying jobs, a transit system that is unreliable and does not cover large parts of the city, and a housing ecosystem that is in crisis on several fronts. As are many urban areas around the country, Detroit has an inhospitable housing ecosystem shaped by several interacting housing crises. Detroit’s housing landscape has been several decades in the making: redlining in the early and mid-nineteenth century; white flight in the 60s and 70s; disinvestment and decreases in state revenue sharing in the 80s and 90s; and the mortgage crisis, stock market collapse, and emergency management in the early 2000s. Even now, while headlines bray the resurgence of Detroit’s downtown, large swaths of the city are intentionally neglected. Without a strategic equity approach, any further investment in Detroit will only perpetuate historic patterns of segregation and discrimination.
Black Detroiters face incredible difficulties in daily life: low-paying jobs, a transit system that is unreliable and does not cover large parts of the city, and a housing ecosystem that is in crisis on several fronts. As are many urban areas around the country, Detroit has an inhospitable housing ecosystem shaped by several interacting housing crises.
DPP and the co-signers of this letter generally support the proposed changes to the AFFH rule and applaud the policymakers at HUD for prioritizing racial justice in housing planning and policy. As the proposed rule notes, any costs incurred in compliance will be outweighed by the benefit to society. However, while we commend the proposed AFFH rule changes, the co-signers of this letter note that changes of this breadth and depth are long overdue. The proposed AFFH rule changes are a strong start- but just a start- to addressing persistent and endemic racial injustice in the US housing system. To that end, the co-signers of this letter make the following comments: there should be greater clarity on the extent to which public comment is required in drafting the equity plan, there should be greater clarity on the definition of “affordable housing,” the geographic analysis should prioritize a smaller area in urban settings, keeping equity plans public and accessible for increased transparency should be diligently upheld, and the accountability measures drafted by HUD (such as investigations and federal funding review) are vital to holding housing agencies and local authorities accountable for enacting racially just housing policies. Below are answers to specific questions posed by HUD as part of the review process and additional comments on especially notable aspects of the proposed rule.
Response to: 5. In what ways can HUD assist program participants in facilitating the community engagement process so that the Equity Plans program participants develop are comprehensive and account for issues faced by members of protected class groups and underserved communities that program participants may not necessarily be aware of?
As many signatories on this letter are either direct HUD benefit recipients or work closely with those who are, we are deeply interested in the issue of community engagement. One of the largest frustrations endured by HUD beneficiaries is a lack of access to remedies when difficulties are encountered; many residents feel that they do not know how to contact in case of problems or do not feel heard when they do complain. The proposed rule as currently written is a distinct improvement on past community engagement policies, but does not go far enough to ensure that community members are leaders in their local housing policy. Section 5.158 of the proposed rule change establishes community engagement provisions by requiring a minimum of three “public meetings” in creating the Equity Plan and one per year following the acceptance of the Plan. This section also recommends that the Plan be informed by “meaningful input” from community. These measures are insufficient in specificity and scope to ensure that program participants follow the spirit of the proposed changes in creating a space for community in the Equity Plan process. The proposed changes, as written, do not provide enough guidance in describing “community engagement” so that a program participant could technically follow the rule changes as written without including community members in a racially just, equitable manner.
We have three suggestions to strengthen the community engagement process and ensure that public input is represented in the final draft of the Equity Plan. First, rather than relegating public engagement to a meeting, we suggest that all meetings be “public hearings.” Changing the meeting to a public hearing brings all the protective requirements by law: proper notice and a requirement to have meetings open and accessible to the public. Because of the requirement to properly notify residents, it is likely that information on the plan and meetings will be more widely and adequately spread. Furthermore, if the steps to set a public hearing are not properly followed, residents have access to legal recourse outside of HUD processes. It is important that the community engagement sessions result in informed policy changes and are not simply a listening session. Second, we suggest that program participants must be required to keep a record of all public comments, how the program participant respond to each comment, and why or why not the program participant decided to include the suggestion in the Equity Plan. While this may add minimal administrative time to the planning process, it does ensure that all comments will be duly considered by the planning body. Also, this is a more quantifiable process than “meaningful.” Because the point of this amendment is to involve the public, we believe that the additional clerical burden is balanced by giving weight to public involvement. Third, and finally, we suggest that a requirement to maintain and publish records of the above standards be included to §5.168(a)(2)-(3). As with all other parts of the plan, public comments and their resolution should be public. This will serve the dual purpose of maintaining transparency with community members and give them insight into how their comments are used in planning.
Response to: 6. HUD seeks comments on whether the definition of “affordable housing opportunities” is sufficiently clear. HUD also seeks comment on whether the definition should apply to both rental and owner-occupied units. Are there other categories of affordable housing that should be explicitly referenced in this definition?
The proposed rule’s definition of “affordable housing opportunities” is clear as it is currently written but omits two important considerations for low-income residents seeking affordable housing. First, “affordability” is not sufficiently defined to target the lowest income residents. As the wealth gap widens between extremely wealthy individuals and the growing low-income population, it is important to increase and improve protections for the most vulnerable populations. In fact, a recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) found that shortage of affordable homes for the nation’s lowest-income residents has worsened. Of especial note is the finding in The Gap report that “national shortage of affordable housing is almost entirely attributable to the shortage for extremely low-income renters.” We believe that affordable housing opportunities must include and prioritize extremely low-income residents. We are concerned that a failure to add “extremely low-income” to part (1)(i) of the definitions will result in that particular population being continuing to fall between the cracks. We realize that this will require inverting traditional neoliberal development models: we suggest a “bubble up” approach as the “trickle down” approach has thus far been unsuccessful. At worst with a bubble up approach, a glut of extremely cheap home options on the market will result in more affordable options for higher income renters. By contrast, a glut of moderately-priced homes in a trickle down model still leaves a large portion of the population unhoused, requiring extra public and private interventions.
Second, the definition of “affordable housing opportunities” must account for the adverse effects of environmental racism. People of color are three times as likely as white communities to live in front line communities- or residential communities that are adjacent to pollution-emitting and heavy industrial areas. Sustained exposure to environmental pollutants has lifelong, devastating impacts on physical and mental health that is well-documented. Communities of color are also much more likely than white communities to bear the brunt of adverse climate change impacts. People of color are more likely to be harmed by environmental disasters and they are also less likely to benefit from reinvestment after an environmental disaster. As it is likely that climate change will only increase without dramatic intervention, it is imperative that we protect our communities in the present and for the future. In particular, affordable housing opportunities must include the ability to access pollution-free and climate-protected living areas. We suggest that the definition of “Affordable Housing Opportunities” be amended in section (3)(i) to include: “climate change ready housing, such as, but not limited to, disaster preparedness and heating and cooling systems.”
Response to: (8)g. Does HUD need to more specifically explain the required level of geographic analysis, whether in this rule itself or in sub-regulatory guidance, for purposes of the development of the Equity Plan, including how different levels of geographic analysis would facilitate the setting of fair housing goals that would result in material positive change that advances equity within communities? For example, should HUD require certain types of program participants to conduct an analysis at the following levels of geography for each fair housing issue: Core-Based Statistical Area, Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Block Groups, Census Tracts, and counties?
We recommend that HUD require program participants in urban/suburban settings use a combined large and small area geographic analysis. The required geographic analysis of the Equity Plan must be able to address the urban-suburban income disparities that exist in metropolitan areas between the urban core cities that frequently house concentrations of low-income individuals and suburban ring cities with higher per capita incomes. The small area analysis is essential to accurately inform municipal and neighborhood level housing planning because urban areas are socio-economically distinct from areas beyond their city limits. At the same time, a racial equity analysis of a city would be incomplete without a larger area analysis. Both large and small areas must be understood separately and interdependently. The Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) geographic analysis used by urban/suburban program participants is uniquely problematic because it groups together dissimilar geographic subareas and functions to keep low- and very low-income residents out of the rental market. MSA analysis encourages only homogenized large area analysis without looking at component parts.
Historical patterns of segregation around the nation have created a pattern of concentrated poverty in communities of color surrounded by wealthier, whiter communities in the suburban ring. For example: the median family income for a family of four in the Detroit-Warren-Livonia statistical area was $64,000 in 2021 while the median family income in Detroit for the same time was $34,000. A metropolitan-level geographic analysis would overlook the stark differences between types of communities and exclusively examining municipal-level patterns would ignore the legacy of patterns of white flight. When income limits are set higher based on including out-of-city populations, a larger pool of people is able to access designated “low-income” housing, effectively creating increased competition for already scarce resources. To put it another way, tailoring housing aid to higher income limits keeps the lowest income residents priced out of quality housing while ignoring historic patterns of white flight omits the resource drain that occurred from racially diverse urban communities.
Comment on §5.154(j): Equity Plan: Publication. The Equity Plan, progress evaluations, and HUD notifications related to Equity Plans shall be public documents.
DPP and the co-signers of this letter commend HUD for proposing changes that will increase transparency in the housing planning process. The transparency of the planning document is paramount for participatory governing. Those most directly impacted by policies must have a direct influence on the policy.
We also wish to emphasize the importance of accessibility to comment on both the Equity Plan and its creation process to meaningful community engagement. The ability to comment on the “living” document as it moves through review and after acceptance is vital to empowering community members and grassroots workers in shaping their own neighborhoods. The signees of this letter are greatly encouraged by the ability to participate in creating policy that will directly impact their daily lives.
Our nation’s segregated present is the result of past efforts by a privileged few to selectively steer resources. We cannot overstate the importance of breaking that cycle of privileged gatekeeping: without breaking the cycle, any reforms will simply act as a bandaid when greater intervention is required.
Comment on §§ 5.162—5.174: Revision, compliance, and accountability measures.
We commend HUD for its commitment to fully execute its proposed rule changes. We believe that the ability to enforce the proposed changes- such as with compliance procedures and accountability measures- is foundational to seeing through the promise of improved access to quality, attainable housing for all Americans. While we hope that program participants will be proactively motivated to act according to the spirit of the proposed rule changes, we understand that the stick is just as important a motivator as the carrot. Past reforms without embedded enforcement mechanisms provide many examples of failed attempts.
We also note the importance of the public’s ability to independently comment on the Equity Plan process and to make complaints directly to HUD. Frequently, community members are stymied in their ability to help themselves and their communities because local-level authorities are unresponsive. The result is that residents live in unsuitable conditions that go too long without being addressed or are exploited by landlords. We believe that an increased ability to speak directly with HUD officials will result in increased accountability at the local level. We further emphasize that the rest of the much-needed reforms in this proposed rule will not have the potential positive impact on historically marginalized communities unless the accountability measures are a part of the final rule.
In closing, we, the signees on this comment letter, applaud the HUD administration for its commitment to racial equity, as is evidenced in the proposed changes to the AFFH rule. We believe in the promise that those proposed changes represent for historically marginalized communities, such as majority Black Detroit. Our comments here are not meant as criticism of the proposed rule changes. Instead, we believe that our comments will help the HUD staff to finalize a rule that will truly bring transformational change to our housing system.
We eagerly anticipate the new rule passing.
 Peter J. Hammer, Race, Regionalism and Reconciliation, Progressive Planning (2015) 4, https://lsa.umich.edu/sid/detroiters-speak/detroiters-speak-archive/_jcr_content/par/download_1945878265/file.res/3rs%20Progressive%20Planning%20by%20Peter%20Hammer; see also, Detroit Future City Strategic Framework, Detroit Future City, https://detroitfuturecity.com/resources/strategic-framework/.
 See, generally, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, The National Low Income Housing Coalition (2023) https://nlihc.org/gap.
 Id. at 4.
 Leah Asmelash, People of Color are Three Times as Likely to Live in Most Polluted Places, New Report Says, CNN (2021) https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/21/us/air-quality-pollution-racism-trnd-wellness/index.html.
 Aneesh Patnaik, Jiahn Son, Alice Feng, & Crystal Ade, Racial Disparities and Climate Change, Princeton (2020) https://psci.princeton.edu/tips/2020/8/15/racial-disparities-and-climate-change.
 City of Detroit (2023), https://detroitmi.gov/sites/detroitmi.localhost/files/2023-01/Worker%20Income%20Limit%20By%20Fiscal%20Year%2001%2005%202023.pdf.
 QuickFacts: City of Detroit, US Census, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/detroitcitymichigan.