Fair housing can and should be a centerpiece of efforts to expand economic opportunity, asserted Dr. Raphael Bostic, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, who gave the 18th Annual John T. Dunlop Lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design on Tuesday, April 10 (watch video). His talk, on the past, present, and future of the Fair Housing Act, was given one day before the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the measure.
Bostic, who also served as Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from 2009 until 2012, explained that decades of research show the strong positive impacts that neighborhoods can have on children’s education and future earnings. Given this, he noted, it is in everyone’s interest to support efforts to expand opportunities for all families. “Fair housing is a key to economic mobility,” he explained. “It is an economic development issue as well as a community and personal development issue.”
Bostic went on to discuss the two main strategies for achieving the law’s ambitious (and, in many cases, unfilled) goals. One approach has been enforcement of the fair housing act’s prohibition on discriminatory treatment in the housing market– including actions brought by HUD against communities, and sometimes brought against HUD by activists and non-profit groups. The other strategy derives from the act’s mandate that federal grantees also have an obligation to affirmatively further fair housing, taking steps to promote integration and not just combat discrimination. During his HUD tenure, Bostic was instrumental in developing a new approach to structuring how HUD-funded communities should go about identifying and implementing such affirmative steps.
While the former approach can achieve some success, it can ultimately produce only limited results, he observed. However, if carefully designed, the latter strategy has significant potential, asserted Bostic, as plans designed by the communities themselves with input from local stakeholders have a greater chance of being actively embraced. Given the current administration’s efforts to slow and roll back some of those efforts, in the short run, enforcement efforts are likely to be the primary way in which supporters of fair housing will achieve their goals, he said. However, in the long run, people and communities will come to adopt more proactive approaches if only because an increasing number of them understand that America’s long-standing history of upward economic mobility is at risk and that fair housing can be part of a solution to making sure that the next generation (and the ones that follow) continue to have access to the American Dream.