Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why I love the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Yesterday, I spoke at the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum about fair housing, and I was struck by enthusiasm of the 200 or so attendees. Atlanta is doing exactly what every community should be doing in reaction to the Supreme Court decision on disparate impact and HUD’s new fair housing rule. Atlantans are having trust-building, forward-looking conversations about how to change long-standing patterns of segregated housing.

It was a privilege to be part of that conversation, in no small measure because Tera Doak of Habitat for Humanity International and Laurel Hart of Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs brought great energy and ideas to our panel conversation. Mike Carnathan from the Atlanta Regional Commission framed the discussion with maps that starkly illustrated the patterns of segregation in Atlanta. We talked about what the new rule and decision mean, what the state of Georgia is already doing to make housing fairer and what more needs to be done.

I sensed a great openness to NHC’s message of unity in housing. Subsidized housing is quite small compared to the market forces and policy decisions that shape neighborhoods. If all we do in affordable housing is battle each other over where tax credit properties get built, we will never help the millions of Americans struggling to pay for, or even find, housing. But if civil rights advocates and community development practitioners and many others come together to advocate for new resources, connect housing to well-planned neighborhood restoration efforts and create more affordable housing opportunities in desirable neighborhoods, real change can happen.

Atlanta’s Regional Housing Forum is clearly a labor of love, sustained by volunteer efforts for many years (especially Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, a staunch NHC member). I hope to see many more forums like this in many more places in years to come.

You can hear an audio recording of the session and see the slides.

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