Monday, July 6, 2015

Building trust to build communities

What we're building
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference


Fair housing connects to widely shared American values of equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination.  It also triggers divisive policy discussions about just how to achieve those values and fear of penalty for violating rules.  Starting from the practical realities of existing patterns of housing and lessons learned by many housing practitioners, NHC is working to help make communities stronger by building trust within the housing community based on our shared values.

Many different parts of the housing community need to work on fair housing.  Public sector agencies set the rules by which housing is built, financed and put into use.  At the state and local level, policy choices have powerful effects on housing costs, location and quality, but many state and local governments are wary of federal requirements and sometimes opaque enforcement.  At the federal level, HUD sees limited capacity for implementing housing policy in many localities, intransigence in a few and its own resource limitations for technical assistance and enforcement.  Over time, trust has eroded on both sides.

The public sector rules and enforcement have real costs and benefits for the private sector companies in the business of housing.  Trust is essential here, too: that rules will be applied fairly and allow business to proceed, and that businesses will make the investments needed to truly make systems fairer.  Mission-oriented organizations and government assistance help to fill the needs left unmet by imperfect markets, but they are profoundly resource constrained and cannot be the sole focus of fair housing efforts. 

The theme of trust runs throughout NHC’s work in fair housing.  Our reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision emphasized that our Inclusive Communities Working Group aims to help states and localities  learn from each other how to build communities that include people of all backgrounds, in ways compatible with both private enterprise and public sector objectives.  Our regulatory comments, convenings and resources around HUD’s forthcoming rule on affirmatively furthering fair housing emphasize the need for trust between the federal government and state and local governments while making measurable progress.  Look for more on this theme at our Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods convening in New Orleans, November 5-6.


We’re all better off if people can live near where they work, study and build their lives.  Getting there requires trust, which only comes through experience and shared values.

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