Fair housing is all about providing choice – the right to choose a living situation free from discrimination. But when it comes to the responsibilities of local governments, “fair housing is the law. It’s not a choice. And for far too long, we have pretended as if it was.”
That’s what Texas Housers Houston co-director Chrishelle Palay told Craig Cohen, the host of the public affairs radio show Houston Matters, this week in a discussion about fair and affordable housing. The segment also featured the interim director of the City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department, Tom McCasland, and Sankofa Research Institute director Assata Richards.
Listen to the segment here, starting at the 21:28 mark.
Chrishelle was invited to weigh in on why there is almost no public or subsidized housing in Houston’s high opportunity neighborhoods, or those areas that have been provided with public investment in schools, infrastructure, safety and economic strength. Instead, affordable housing is mostly concentrated in historically African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods, where decades of discrimination and disinvestment have made it very hard for residents to get ahead.
She pointed out that the City of Houston has an obligation to follow fair housing guidelines by providing much more housing choice across neighborhoods – the City cannot act as though doing so is optional, as it must affirmatively further fair housing due to federal law, the recent policy from the Obama administration and its funding requirements.
And she noted that too often, affordable housing is built in concentrated minority areas under the guise of “revitalization.” Chrishelle and her fellow guests agreed that housing alone does not improve impoverished communities (in fact, the over-concentration of subsidized housing has a negative effect) and that real investment means a commitment to provide public services and amenities that discriminatory policies have kept out of minority neighborhoods.
Chrishelle also pushed back on the idea that providing choice by offering affordable housing in more affluent areas means ignoring lower income communities. “It’s continued to be said that some neighborhoods are quote-unquote ‘too black and too poor’ to receive investment in housing. We totally reject that notion,” she said. “There must be a comprehensive plan [for disinvested communities], meaning you’re taking a look at schools, you’re looking at infrastructure, amenities like grocery stores. And we know that is a long-term plan. But in the meantime, we must also give people choice, which has lacked in this city for years. If you’re a person with limited means, you don’t have the choice to move to an area where there are great schools or amenities or that is near working centers.”
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