Fulfilling the Promise of the Fair Housing Act

By Will Jordan


Will Jordan is the Executive Director of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing & Opportunity Council (EHOC), which works to ensure equal access to housing for all people through education, counseling, investigation, and enforcement. EHOC was recognized in 2008 with HUD’s Blue Ribbon Award and by FOCUS St. Louis in 2003 with a “What’s Right with the Region” Award. Will personally was awarded the 2012 Missouri Commission on Human Rights Fair Housing Advocate Award and the 2005 Governor’s Human Rights Award from the State of Illinois. Will received his B.S. in Psychology from Southeast Missouri State University and his J.D. from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Before coming to EHOC, he served as Program Manager for the Emerson Park Development Corporation’s YouthBuild Program in East St. Louis, as Hearing Officer for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as Regional Trainer for the Missouri Division of Youth Services, and as Community Outreach Coordinator for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. He is a member of Stand for Children’s grassroots organizing initiative.

The Obama administration’s newly released Final Rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) is, potentially, one of our nation’s most substantial housing policy changes in decades. The Final Rule on AFFH was announced in the Federal Register on July 16, 2015: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-07-16/pdf/2015-17032.pdf. The rule clarifies already existing Fair Housing obligations for states, counties, municipalities and even Public Housing Agencies that are receiving federal monies. The rule will use market-based incentives to encourage the construction of affordable housing in high opportunity neighborhoods. HUD will also be creating custom, localized, digital tools to provide local governments with extensive data and analysis of residential segregation.

From access to good schools and healthy food, to proximity to jobs and transportation, where we live impacts almost every aspect of our lives. The Obama administration’s new Fair Housing policy will help ensure that all people – regardless of race, ethnicity, family status or disability – have a range of choices about where to live. In a metropolitan region with numerous school systems and over three hundred political subdivisions, housing mobility is extremely important. Low- to moderate-income families should be able move to better school districts. Much of their children’s lives will be determined by where they go to school and the neighborhood in which they grow up.

This rule will also benefit those who live in the urban core, as it will seek to encourage development that helps ensure that all neighborhoods are good places to live, regardless of the demographics of their residents. Packing almost all of our affordable housing into a handful of disadvantaged neighborhoods has led to stark location-dependent differences in our fellow citizens’ quality of life.

By encouraging development of affordable housing in high opportunity areas, this new rule will help us to reduce the concentration of poverty and the social costs that accompany it. In one of the country’s most segregated metropolitan areas, we must overcome historic patterns of discrimination. The tools provided by AFFH will let communities evaluate segregation and make informed, data-driven decisions to help break down the invisible barriers in our region.

Our region will continue to grow more diverse, and we must take proactive steps to ensure that every family has a fair chance of living in a safe, nurturing community. AFFH will give our civic leaders the information that they need, to make sound housing development decisions that open the doors to opportunity. Failing to build affordable housing in high opportunity areas (due to prejudices against low-income families and people of color) risks the perpetuation of segregation and the dooming of future generations to continued limited opportunities and shorter lifespans. To quote Dr. King, “It is a torturous logic to use the tragic results of racial segregation as an argument for the continuation of it.”

The one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing, August 9th stands as a stark reminder that we need to get to work. We are hopeful that our region’s leaders will take advantage of these new tools that can help us build a better, more inclusive St. Louis. Our children deserve nothing less.

Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri- St. Louis.